Putting The Community Back In The Community College.

No one seems to know when it happened…when the word community was removed from Yavapai College…or if it was ever part of the name in the first place. Since it was billed as a community college, maybe it was just understood. Nevertheless, at some point, the college seemed to stop serving communities in the Verde Valley. That fact became glaringly apparent when the Yavapai College Governing Board voted to approve a new 10-year plan that directs the vast majority of taxpayer money to Prescott and Prescott Valley. At the same time, the plan calls for closing the Chino Valley campus.  It calls for moving the nursing program from the Clarkdale campus to Prescott Valley. It also calls for “suspending” the Sedona Film School and selling the Sedona campus.

All of these moves would leave prospective students in the Verde Valley with fewer opportunities for higher education. If they choose to pursue a degree from Yavapai College, they would be forced to drive more than an hour each way over the mountain switchbacks. That may not seem like much of a deterrent to the College Administration and its Governing Board, but it presents an enormous obstacle to those who are employed and seeking higher education – especially those who are struggling to make ends meet.

Not surprisingly, that describes most of the people who seek degrees from community colleges.

Looking at national enrollment statistics, one discovers that attendance fluctuates in a counter-cyclical fashion to the economy. When the economy is down, community college attendance goes up, and vice versa. It’s a demonstration of the desire to improve one’s life. Yet, even though our economy is slowly improving, the circumstances for many aren’t. As a result, part-time enrollment in community colleges has increased.

National statistics to the contrary, Yavapai College administration and its Governing Board cite declining enrollment as the primary reason to abandon the Verde Valley. But enrollment figures are simply statistics, and we all know that there are lies, damn lies and statistics.

Enrollment is the product of many variables. As previously noted, the economy is one. Other factors are the community job market, the program offerings, the cost, the time of day classes are available, the history of the college placement service, the availability of affordable student housing for programs that hope to attract students from outside the immediate area, community relations, marketing, and more.

Any of these factors can explain the declining enrollment in the Verde Valley. One has to wonder, has the administration considered these factors? Or worse, has it manipulated them?

How can a film school hope to draw students to Sedona without student housing? Did the college really think there were enough students in the Verde Valley to sustain such a school? How can the Southwest Wine Center, which is intended to draw students from the entire Southwestern United States to Clarkdale, hope to succeed without student housing? Why do the Yavapai College administration and its Governing Board state that costs of building a dormitory in Clarkdale would be $30 million when their plans call for building a new dormitory in Prescott for $7 million?

Such questions not only make one wonder about the real intent of the administration. They make one wonder about the capabilities of the Yavapai College administration and its Governing Board.

Of course, there are other questions that require answers: How did the Governing Board think it could spend the vast majority of the Verde Valley’s $12 million in annual taxes in Prescott and Prescott Valley while closing the Sedona campus and removing many of the program offerings from the Clarkdale campus? And what prompted them to make such a decision with little to no input from Verde Valley residents? They should have known that such a decision would be controversial, if not deeply offensive.

Yet the administration and Governing Board seem genuinely puzzled by the predictable outrage. They now appear to be in full crisis management mode.

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