Now that Arizona legislators have restored the funding for high school career and technical education that was cut from last year’s state budget, they’ll have an opportunity to consider possible changes that would help fund career and technical education programs at the community college level, the next step for many students.
Maricopa Community College District, the state’s largest community college system, is leading the legislative push to modify per-student funding limits to account for the higher cost of providing career and technical education. The proposed change is included in Senate Bill 1322, which was introduced by Arizona Senate President Pro Tempore Sylvia Allen in late January.
It is part of a 10-year funding strategy that outgoing chancellor Dr. Rufus Glasper says would enable the district to meet Maricopa County’s demand for skilled workers in high-demand business sectors like environmental technology and advanced manufacturing.
Exempting entrepreneurial revenue from the revenue limits of community colleges is part of SB1322 as well, and, like redefining the full-time student equivalent, would help all Arizona community colleges, Glasper said.
MCCD’s goal is to increase funding by $1.25 billion over the next 10 years.
Maricopa Community Colleges hosted a discussion in early February with all the community college districts in Arizona about investment strategies and possible legislation to help them meet their goals to train this skilled workforce.
Pathway to Post-Secondary
The key to developing this skilled workforce is to help people earn certificates and associate’s degrees – stackable credentials – in these fields, Glasper said
“Stackable credentials are allowing individuals to start off as a technical worker in the manufacturing space and within eight to 10 different steps they can come in and out of the workplace, continue their income, be able to support their families,” Glasper said. “We are now developing pathways so they can then go to one of the state universities and earn a bachelor’s degree.”
More than 60 percent of Arizona State University’s juniors have 12 or more credit hours from Maricopa Community Colleges, Glasper said.
An Economic Imperative?
Investing today in higher education and training – specifically associate’s degrees and workforce certificates – is crucial to staffing advanced industries, said Dr. Carrie Kisker, director of the Center for the Study of Community Colleges, a non-profit research and policy center based in Los Angeles.
If that investment is not made, then Arizona will “either import the workforce necessary to serve local business and industry or risk losing those employers to more fertile economic grounds,” Kisker said.
A Multi-Faceted Approach
Kisker and Glasper agree that traditional funding mechanisms, like seeking bond elections, raising tuition and increasing the tax levy – all which require action by the community college district board – will need to be part of the strategy as well.
“In order for us to meet our goal it takes a combination of each of these factors,” Glasper said.
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SB1322 includes the averaging, weighting factor and entrepreneurial revenue components and was co-endorsed by Representative Bob Thorpe, Glasper said.
“We have every early indication that the entrepreneurial piece will be moving forward,” Glasper said. “There will be more discussions on the weighting and the average piece.”
If the Maricopa Community Colleges’ board also puts a bond measure before voters in 2018 and it passes, the board approves a two-percent tuition increase for 10 years, legislators change how full-time student equivalent is defined in the expenditure limit and exempt entrepreneurial revenue, then “what we see through this is that we meet our investment target and we are now meeting the county’s expectations for the number of trained workers needed to serve our local businesses,” Kisker said.
Community colleges’ role
In 2013-14, Economic Modeling Specialists International completed an economic analysis of Arizona’s community colleges and found that their economic impact was in excess of $15 billion, and “Maricopa’s portion of that is about $7.3 billion annually,” Glasper said.
“When we look at our region, we represent about 3.8 percent of the gross regional product that comes from that $7.3 billion,” Glasper said. “We are the largest provider of workforce training in the State of Arizona.”
To continue to maintain that role, Maricopa Community Colleges has projected they’ll need to raise $1.25 billion over the next 10 years to train enough people to meet the county’s 2025 workforce needs.
Adjusting full-time student equivalency
Instead of seeking legislation to adjust the expenditure limit, redefining full-time student equivalency in the statutes makes more sense, Glasper said.
The number of students that Maricopa Community serves is considerably higher than its full-time student equivalent, because “a full-time student equivalent is 30 credit hours annually and our average student takes less than six credit hours,” Glasper said.
One option would be to go from a current-year FTSE estimate to a an estimate of the five year average, which might over time give more accurate counts of students served, Kisker said. Another option would more heavily weight students enrolled in higher-cost career and technical education than those in liberal arts classes.
“There are historic precedents for this in Arizona. This was done in the ‘70s and the ‘80s,” Kisker said. “It’s something that about 2/3 of Maricopa County voters support.”
In the late ‘80s, there was a weighting factor on occupational programs of 1.4 instead of the traditional 1.0 FTSE, but when “the state was having some financial issues, they took away the weighting factor,” Glasper said.
The weighting factor reflects that there needs to be more one-on-one attention for the hands-on work done in career and technical education courses which means smaller class sizes, Glasper said.
If the expenditure limit was adjusted in those two ways, “the Maricopa Community College system could secure an added assessment from property taxes and sources governed by the expenditure limit of about $500 million in aggregate over the next 10 years,” Kisker said. “That’s quite a big difference from the $100 million we were looking at before.”
Currently, community colleges cannot embark on an enterprise model in the same way that the state’s universities have, because they wouldn’t be allowed to keep the entrepreneurial revenue that they earned, Kisker said.
“We have people coming to us wanting us to be more involved in the entrepreneurial space and we’re working with our university partners as well,” Glasper said.
For example, a few years ago a private corporation approached Maricopa’s online school Rio Salado College about licensing their platform for online education for about $7 million a year, but “it was never done because it would have put the colleges over their expenditure amount,” Kisker said.
If entrepreneurial revenue were exempt, it could be done, Kisker said.
If Maricopa Corporate College were allowed to keep even a tiny ownership percentage or stake in any of the corporations in its small business incubator “and those go public or make a lot of money down the road, that’s a huge amount of money that could come into the district, support operational expenses without doing so on the backs of students or taxpayers,” Kisker said.
Video by Maricopa Community Colleges: Investing in our regional workforce through higher education and training