The Arizona Board of Regents unanimously endorsed joint recommendations from the state universities and community colleges to improve access to baccalaureate degrees in Arizona.

The recommendations establish a process by which community colleges might offer four-year degrees and create a pathway that would allow a community college to become a regional four-year-degree-granting college.

At the heart of the recommendations are a collaborative needs assessment and a right of first refusal by the universities on offering new or expanded degree programs.

The recommendations were developed by the Joint Conference Committee, which includes representation from the university system and community colleges. The JCC recommendations were approved last month by the Arizona Community College Association.

“These recommendations provide a systematic process for universities and community colleges to meet higher education needs,” said Northern Arizona University President John Haeger, who represented the university presidents on the JCC.

The JCC document states that if neither NAU, Arizona State University nor the University of Arizona can respond to a predetermined need for new or expanded baccalaureate programs, a community college may offer the degree. Additionally, if a needs assessment identifies a demand for additional baccalaureate programs that are not met by the universities, a community college could change its mission to become a four-year college if the following preconditions are met:

The local community college board has indicated both the need and willingness to support expansion of the community college mission.

  • There is limited university access for students in the region.
  • Appropriate accreditation is available and could be obtained.
  • Sufficient infrastructure exists to support a baccalaureate-degree-granting college.
  • An implementation plan is developed and submitted to the JCC, the Legislature, Office of the Governor and ABOR.
  • Governance issues are addressed between the community college board, ABOR, the Legislature and the appropriate accrediting agencies.

The needs assessment for new or expanded degree programs and for establishing a regional four-year college would involve local community college boards, the Arizona Community College Association, the three state universities and ABOR.

The JCC, led by Regent Ernest Calderón, developed the recommendations to strike a compromise between the universities and community colleges in response to previously proposed legislation to grant community colleges the authority to award four-year degrees.

“This is an extraordinary first step,” said Regent Jack Jewett of the collaborative effort.

ABOR President Christina Palacios noted, “It takes two to tango, and the community colleges danced with us.”