By Roland Murphy for Arizona Builder’s Exchange
Enrollment has fallen in recent years. In the Mesa area especially, population lost during the Great Recession has not bounced back, and competition for students is fiercer than ever, according to MCCCD’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Capital Planning & Special Projects Arlen Solochek.
This, combined with the State’s removal of funding, has caused the District to re-examine its offerings, particularly at its Mesa Community College Red Mountain campus.
Rather than simply putting in a zero-dollar line item, the state legislature removed Maricopa and Pima community colleges from the budget entirely, making them, in Solochek’s words, “Colleges non-grata.” He speculated one reason for the legislature’s action may have been a sense the two districts’ would have a better chance for survival than others due to their urban locations and makeup. Operating expenses for the district now depend on tuition and secondary property tax revenues.
One item under consideration at Red Mountain is cutting secondary support offerings and providing instruction-only services, with support services and amenities located exclusively at the main Mesa Community College campus.
“One of the problems with the satellite campuses is that for a limited amount of classroom and lab space there’s a great deal of support space that comes with a center like that,” Solochek said. “You’ve got student services, you’ve got a library, we’ve got activity spaces and a fitness center; there are all kinds of things that support the students that are out there but are not true teaching spaces.”
Comparatively, similar facilities like Glendale Community College North were built with those types of support services but have done better due to service area demographics. Solochek said, “By and large it’s a young community with lots of people moving in. At the same time, in east Mesa, you have a community that’s lower density and older. The demographics there didn’t play out the way we expected, and all of that has crippled enrollment.”
Solochek said he doubts the District will close Mesa Community College Red Mountain this year, but that 2016 will be a year of evaluation for both the campus and the District’s future offerings. “If you want the community colleges to be a vital player in the community, they deserve political and financial support. Right now we’re part of the ‘low tax-no tax’ environment that all of education is seeing in the state.”