A few bills pending in the legislature would allow Arizona community colleges to offer four-year degrees. The goal is to bring down the cost of a degree and produce more college graduates. Unfortunately the evidence suggests this is highly unlikely.
A major reason universities in the United States are an international success is that by and large they must compete for students for their financial viability. Even state universities are generally funded by formulas determined by the size of their student bodies. So, if they want to grow their budgets, they need to attract more students. Community colleges, on the other hand, do not have to compete for funding. Community colleges in Arizona have their own tax revenue stream that generates funding automatically—no competition for students required.
Even facing competition, Arizona universities have succumbed to the debilitating effects of being showered with tax money. Administration has become increasingly bloated. And they produce more dropouts than degrees; only the University of Arizona has a four-year graduation rate above 30 percent.
Arizona’s community colleges are no better: 82 percent of Maricopa County Community College students aim to get an associates degree, but only 11 percent of them have done so after three years. They too have bloated administrative bureaucracies.
If allowing community colleges to offer four year degrees is supposed to save tax money, the evidence points in exactly the opposite direction. If it is supposed to result in a more educated populace, the evidence does not support this either. Community colleges don’t meet their mission now, and they should not be rewarded for it.
If a community college is to become a four-year degree granting institution, it should be required to give up its taxing authority and compete for students like every other state university. Taxpayers’ wallets would still be at risk, but the colleges would at least have to work for the money.
Dr. Byron Schlomach is director of the Goldwater Institute’s Center for Economic Prosperity.
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