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State of the State 2020

January 22nd, 2020

January 22, 2020

By: Rich Nickel

Last week, Governor Ducey shared his priorities for the upcoming year in his State of the State and proposed fiscal year (FY) 2021 state budget. College Success Arizona was encouraged that the governor outlined several policies that will help create a better educational system for all Arizonans.

In his proposed budget, Gov. Ducey allocates $102 million towards higher education investments, including education programs for rural community college districts.

Of the total, $17.6 million will be distributed to community colleges around Arizona, marking one of the most significant investments in community colleges since 2015 when the Pima and Maricopa community college districts were completely defunded by the state.

While this renewed investment represents an important first step, there is still more work to be done.

In our 2019 policy brief Prioritizing Access and Opportunity: How Community Colleges Contribute Increased Attainment and Economic Growth in Arizona, we recommended the state fully restore funding for Maricopa and Pima community colleges. Combined, the two districts served more than 225,000 students in 2017. Until full funding is restored, the schools cannot offer all the programs and services needed to increase educational opportunities and attainment in Arizona. The $11.1 million in funds proposed to fully restore STEM and Workforce Programs in Maricopa, Pima, and Pinal community college districts, while important, is not enough.

The remaining $6.5 million of the community college investments the governor proposed will be allocated to one-time funding of general operating expenses and career and technical education (CTE) programs at the state’s 10 rural community college districts.

Too often students in rural Arizona communities face educational inequities, which is why we were pleased to learn that Gov. Ducey plans on investing some funds specifically to rural schools to help create a college-going culture and increase college attainment in rural Arizona.

An initiative that will be help rural communities as a whole is Gov. Ducey’s proposed reversal of a previous $6 million reduction in Arizona Competes funding and adding $10 million to invest further in the Rural Broadband Grant program. The $10 million will be split between broadband infrastructure development and community broadband planning.

In our special report How Information and Opportunity Gaps Limit College-Going in Rural Arizona, we recommend maintaining funding equalization for community colleges in rural areas. We also advocate for the creation of a new needs-based grant aid program that provides flexible, portable funding to encourage and enable more young people throughout Arizona to pursue a formal education credential beyond high school.

For the public universities in Arizona, Gov. Ducey proposed $70 million, half of which will go towards one-time general funds to support operational costs and capitol improvements. The other half will go towards the Arizona Board of Regent’s (ABOR) the “New Economy” initiative which aims to:

  • Boost postsecondary attainment;
  • Increase the number of graduates in critical high-demand industries; and
  • Reduce the time required to obtain a degree by modernizing curriculums and programs.

An important piece of the proposed ABOR budget is the funding of a new $30 million, defined statewide financial aid program geared towards helping high-need students. This program would fund the remaining amount of tuition after a student has received all other sources of financial aid. This “last-dollar” program would also make it easier for families to understand if they might qualify for an award earlier in the student’s high school years. This is vital if we are going to encourage more financially needy students to participate in postsecondary education.

As previously recommended, to truly increase participation in postsecondary opportunities, a similar program should be implemented for financially needy students choosing to attend our state’s community colleges.

In his State of the State, Gov. Ducey said he had an eye towards the Achieve60AZ initiative, and his plan to help start the process of creating a college-going mindset by fully funding the cost for low-income students to take advanced placement tests is a policy that would help advance the mission.

While these policies represent progress toward providing increased educational opportunities to students across the state and closing the attainment gap in Arizona, there is much more to do. College Success Arizona has articulated the policy priorities we think are key to increasing college access and affordability in Arizona and to bringing us closer to meeting our statewide attainment goal—60 percent by 2030—set by Achieve60AZ. These priorities include:

  • Closing information gaps that limit college-going culture;
  • Working to improve college affordability;
  • Increasing state financial aid; and
  • Advocating for increased attainment statewide to drive economic growth.

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