Cochise College has decided to end its relationship with the Santa Cruz County Provisional Community College District, sending district leaders searching for a new partner to provide instruction and services to local students by the coming summer.
J.D. Rottweiler, president of Cochise College, notified local college officials at the end of November that his institution would not renew its current contract with the district when it expires at the end of June, said Liz Collier, board chair of the Santa Cruz County Provisional Community College District (SCCPCCD).
“We were not expecting Cochise to pull out this school year, but the board is committed to finding a new host community college to provide educational services after July 1, 2017,” Collier wrote in an email Monday to the Nogales International. “Our goal and first priority is to provide a seamless transition for our students.”
Asked for comment on the decision, Rottweiler said Cochise College has “proudly” served Santa Cruz County since 2003 with classes, access to library resources, financial aid, advising and counseling.
“Both the student body and Cochise College offerings have grown steadily over the last decade, thanks to the vision and energy of college employees and community leaders there,” he wrote in an email. “However, at this time, we believe the Santa Cruz County Provisional Community College Board and Cochise College have different objectives and are moving in different directions.”
The college intended to give the SCCPCCD time to seek a new partner prior to the end of the agreement, Rottweiler wrote, adding: “It has been our impression, for some time, that this was the desire of the provisional community college board.”
Collier said the district plans to distribute a letter Tuesday to students at the currently named Cochise College-Santa Cruz Center in Nogales to advise them of the situation.
In a copy of the letter she provided to the NI, Collier assured the students that the district remains “fully committed to maintaining and even growing the educational opportunities available for you and future students right here in Santa Cruz County,” adding that the search for a new partner has already begun.
“As we work through this transition, please understand that there will not be any impact or change on the courses and offerings for the coming semester. Similarly, SCCPCCD will also continue to host the U of A South with baccalaureate and master’s degree programs,” the letter states. “Meanwhile, SCCPCCD will be working diligently in the coming months to limit the impact heading into next school year so that you will still be able to earn your degree and/or certificate while attending the Santa Cruz Center in Nogales.”
Stella Perez, CEO of the SCCPCCD, said local students who do not complete their two-year Cochise College associate degree programs or one-year and nine-month certificate programs by June will have alternatives after the contract expires.
If they wish to graduate with a Cochise College degree or certificate, a so-called “teach-out” agreement allows them to continue studying on line or at one of the college’s other campuses (there are facilities in Sierra Vista, Douglas, Benson and Willcox).
Another option, once a new college is contracted to provide local instruction, is available through the Arizona General Education Curriculum, or AGEC, which allows credit for core courses to be transferred from one Arizona community college to another.
“So any college that now becomes our new host college, the students’ courses would transfer,” Perez said.
There are currently 512 students enrolled at the Cochise College-Santa Cruz Center, she said.
“We’re working very hard, and we have been working very quickly to make sure that we have alternatives for them,” Perez said, adding: “And there’s a good number of leaders working for them.”
In his email, Rottweiler said Cochise College “is committed to helping current students complete the programs they’ve already begun or to transfer to a new provider. Our intent is to ensure a seamless transition or teach-out for students.”
As far as the teaching faculty at the Cochise College-Santa Cruz Center, they are employed by the college, not the district, Perez said. As a result, a new college partner would be responsible for personnel, though Perez added that as the SCCPCCD looks toward its own accreditation, the district has also talked about how it would provide its own staffing.
Through its agreement with the SCCPCCD, Cochise College began offering classes in Santa Cruz County in 2003 at a city building on Madison Street, then moved into the Historic 1904 Courthouse in 2006.
In May 2010, county voters overwhelmingly approved a new tax to support the community college district. With revenue from that tax, the college moved to a 28,000-square-foot facility at 2021 N. Grand Avenue in the fall of 2013 that it now shares with the University of Arizona South.
In an interview in January, Collier said the SCCPCCD board’s goal was to eventually receive full accreditation and become its own community college without having to contract out for services. But she added that the process can take between five and 10 years.
“Right now we’re in a partnership with Cochise (College) and it’s been a good partnership, but at some point we’re going to have to have control over our own destiny,” she said at the time.
Speaking Monday, Collier said Cochise College’s decision not to renew the contract illustrates why the district wants to pursue accreditation and the autonomy it would bring. But when asked if the recent developments might speed up the timetable, she said the accrediting authority, the Higher Learning Commission, requires a very specific process that can’t be expedited.
Perez said that as the SCCPCCD searches for a partner to offer local college education, it will look for a “best fit for supporting our accreditation strategies.” It will also look for a partner that can support the college’s growing student enrollment “and that also recognizes border needs, the unique needs of our students, of our student demographics, our community and county.”
She also said the relationship with the University of Arizona South, which offers four-year degrees to students at the Nogales campus, remains strong.
“A U of A South message went out supporting Santa Cruz County Provisional,” she said. “It was a very positive message from our partners at U of A South.”
Perez said Cochise College students with questions or concerns about the upcoming transition can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
She also urged citizens to attend SCCPCCD board meetings, the next one set for 5 p.m. Thursday at the Grand Avenue campus, and the following scheduled for 5 p.m. Jan. 12. Each meeting includes a call to the public, at which community members can address the board.