I would argue that Pima Community College could and should play a key role.
History is riddled with periods of war, famine, natural disasters, plague, and pestilence that swept nations, only to simmer and die with varying degrees of death and destruction. Today, in addition to being at the precipice of the most emotionally laden Presidential election of our lives, we are in the midst of a historic period of a global pandemic and social upheaval, indeed by any measure, of biblical proportions. There will be more death. There will be more destruction—social, cultural, economic, and political. It will end. And when it does, the world will never be the same.
The question is: which institutions are preparing now to emerge from out of the rubble with the right tools to recover and rebuild?
At a structural level, rebuilding our society from the ground up will require people power in the form of trained and skilled workers. Factories, small businesses, and industries will eventually start to open up. In addition to crucial unskilled labor, there will be an even bigger demand for what Pima Community College calls “middle skills” training and certification. Those are the electricians, plumbers, HVAC, or air-conditioning repair technicians (our most cherished commodity in Arizona!) first responders, healthcare workers, auto-mechanics, welders, and the list goes on.
It will no doubt take some time for people to slowly brave going to movie theaters, concerts, parties, clubs, and other social gatherings, let alone feeling safe enough to send their kids to school unmasked in small petri-dish classrooms. Not to mention hugging strangers, if you were prone to that in the pre-COVID world.
Affordability and accessibility
As a retired Naval officer, I know that the sailor turning the wrenches down in the boiler room is arguably as important as the Captain steering the ship up top—both are essential and both can cause the ship to sink. Our middle-skilled workforce will be the answer to post-COVID economic recovery. But it will also be the answer to the recovery of the soul of Pima County. The vital importance of a technical workforce is certainly key. However, music, adult continuing education, languages, art, theater, dance, literature, yoga, sport, indigenous, ethnic, and women’s studies all complete the fabric of what makes a society civil and a community joyful. Joy. Remember that concept?
The affordability and accessibility of Community Colleges will prove to be the most crucial link in our chain if we hope to recover efficiently and quickly. I teach political science at Pima Community College and am using this insight to run for the Governing board this year because calculated yet swift action must take place now.
- Training programs and two-year degrees at Pima are a fraction of the cost of universities.
- It’s a place where diversity rules and socio-economic status means nothing.
- Students come from a wide array of race, religion, gender, immigration status, sexual preferences, and age.
- They come for different reasons but have one thing in common—a profound desire to change their lives.
Multiply that by more than 20,000 students, and you see the future of our new post-COVID world. We have nothing but hope in front of us. It is dire that we cultivate that. With state funding stripped bare years ago by our state legislature and governor, and loss of revenue during COVID, this institution may not survive. A much larger question is this–Why can’t our community colleges be as “nearly close to free as possible,” as stated in the Arizona constitution and enjoyed so successfully elsewhere around the world?