Catherine Ripley: How Pima Community College is Adapting to Dramatic Shifts in the World

Catherine Ripley, the Chair of the Pima County Community College governing board, spoke at Democrats of Greater Tucson on November 7, 2022. She spotlighted dramatic changes, like the decline in high school graduations, college enrollment and the birth rate. Today’s graduates want an education to get a job now

With the average cost of college tuition for in-state students at $24,000 in Arizona, students have a growing skepticism about the value of a college degree. In-state tuition and fees at public national universities have grown the most, increasing 175% in recent years.

“Indeed, gathering the fundamentals of humanity, civilization, philosophy, scientific and natural truths, politics, geography, and history have gone by the wayside in our K-12 systems,” she said. ” By the time students reach college the answers to the mystical questions that start with “WHY?” are foregone. Today students step onto the treadmill of life and towards jobs, money, belongings, family and other pursuits.”

She said Community colleges must move with a changing world or remain still and get left behind. Transformation in education has been on a specific path for more than 20 years. However, change here in Pima County was most recently exacerbated or accelerated based on several factors:

1.   The 2009 Great Recession led to a decline in our workforce as millions lost their jobs

2.   In 2015, the complete disinvestment by the State of Arizona of both Maricopa and Pima Community Colleges. For Pima Community College, that was $6.5 million.

3.   A decline across the nation in college enrollment over the past 15 years.

4.   When Pima Community College lost its state funding, it also nearly lost its accreditation due to the scandalous nature of the then-Chancellor, whose tenure was riddled with sexual harassment, mismanagement of the budget, and the incurrence of a sizable debt.

5.   And, finally, the Pandemic. To be clear, this was not the cause for the changes we see today, it only served to accelerate many of the moves we see in Higher Education towards more online learning, workforce development projects, and community partnerships and further away from traditional classical education.

“Community colleges were formed to provide a demographic of students who were not ready yet or had no desire to attend a four-year university.  It was the perfect marriage of Vo-Tech and Associate Degrees, thus easing the transition to a four-year college,” she said. “And most importantly, it was affordable, accessible, and focused on real people in the community.  This is what we have at Pima County Community College.”

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