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Students, administrators decry state cuts for Maricopa, Pima community colleges

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When Arizona State University cost too much for Xochitl Rayas, she said Phoenix College was an ideal alternative.

With the fiscal 2016 state budget cutting all funding for Maricopa Community Colleges, however, Rayas said she’s worried about what will happen to the quality of her education. Chief among her fears: the possibility of staff cuts.

“I’m scared that there’s going to be people without jobs, teachers I won’t see or staff members that will be gone forever,” she said.

A 19-year-old sophomore, Rayas joined other students recently at a protest against funding cuts – from $15.6 million to nothing in fiscal 2016 – for community colleges in Maricopa and Pima counties.

Cuts of $99 million to public universities have received most of the headlines since Ducey signed the $9.1 billion budget into law last week. But community college officials say their hit is also concerning because they already run lean.

Rufus Glasper, chancellor of the 10 Maricopa Community Colleges, issued a statement March 11 saying the budget effectively ends state funding for a system that contributes billions to the economy each year.

“This withdrawal in state investment in community college education to Maricopa forces very difficult conversations about our ability to serve the growing education needs of our community and to contribute to the economic development goals of our state,” he wrote. “The fact is that without adequate funding from the state, tuition and property taxes, we will face decisions about how many students we can educate and prepare to fill quality jobs.”

He pointed to an Examination Management Services Inc. report released the same day as Ducey’s budget proposal that found Maricopa Community Colleges alumni, employees and students contribute $7.3 billion annually to the county.

According to the Maricopa Community Colleges website, more than 265,000 students each year take credit and non-credit courses and the system employs nearly 10,000 people, about 5,200 of them adjunct faculty. The general fund budget for this school year stands at $774 million.

Andrew Tucker, communications manager for Maricopa Community Colleges, noted that state aid to the system had already dropped from $57 million in fiscal 2007 to $8.8 million during the fiscal year ending June 30.

“I think while we’re not happy to see the direction this is going in, we recognize that the budget has to be balanced,” he said.

Tucker said the district has been looking over the last for years for new revenue streams to supplement tuition, property tax revenue and state aid. That includes establishing a corporate college that addresses the training needs of area businesses.

Facing the loss of $6.8 million in state funding, the Pima Community College Board of Governors approved a proposal last week to raise in-state tuition by $5 per credit hour to $75.50 for the upcoming school year.

Ducey’s plan would have also cut from Pinal County’s community colleges. But lawmakers opted to restore $2 million to the system’s state funding.

Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s deputy chief of staff for communications, said community colleges should encourage students to not worry about their education changing.

He said that the cuts to Maricopa and Pima were made because the governor’s priority was shielding community colleges in more rural areas.

“We’re protecting rural community colleges from reduction,” he said. “The threats are small.”

Scarpinato also pointed to the projected $1.5 billion deficit facing state leaders and said the new budget is fiscally responsible.

“He ran on a clear mission to balance the budget,” he said. “He’s fulfilling his promise.”