Students at the Cochise College campus in Nogales expressed surprise to learn their school is leaving Santa Cruz County after the upcoming spring semester, and said they hope a new college will step up to the plate because they don’t want to take online classes or drive to Tucson for their education.

“Oh, that’s so sad,” first-year student Marisela Martinez said when told of the development by the NI. “I don’t even have a car. That’s why this was so convenient.”

Officials at the Santa Cruz County Provisional Community College District (SCCPCCD) announced Monday that they had learned late last month that Cochise College would not renew its contract when it expires at the end of June.

Two days later, SCCPCCD board president Liz Collier said the district is now in talks with Pima Community College to offer local classes once the deal with Cochise expires. 

Students interviewed at the Cochise College-Santa Cruz Center on Wednesday said they strongly prefer local classes to the alternatives. They said they wouldn’t want – or can’t afford – to drive to a more distant location, and the prospect of online education isn’t appealing either.

“I’ve done it before, it’s not good,” said Alejandro Godoy, a freshman psychology major. “Sometimes you need someone to talk to you, like if you have questions. Like sometimes you can’t help yourself, you need someone who knows so that they can explain things.”

Incoming student Blanca Tanori’s first semester of college will be Cochise College’s last in Santa Cruz County.

“I don’t qualify for financial aid so I need to pay for my school,” she said, adding that if a replacement college is not found, “now I’m forced to move to Tucson and pay more money, my rent. I have a car payment.”

If a replacement college is found, the Arizona General Education Curriculum program would allow Cochise College students like Tanori to transfer their core course credits to the new institution. If a local student wants to graduate from Cochise College, they can continue their studies online or at the college’s other locations, such as Sierra Vista or Douglas.

New partner

A story announcing Cochise College’s departure generated a flurry of responses and reactions after it was posted to the NI’s website Tuesday morning. Pre-nursing student Jazmin Lopez saw the story and thought, “Wow, what am I going to do now?” she said.

Lopez quickly showered, hopped in her car and drove to the campus from Rio Rico to learn more. After speaking with Christie Monreal, president of the Santa Cruz Student Coalition, her anxiety turned to excitement. Lopez said she now views the change as an opportunity for SCCPCCD to find a partner who will help the district gain accreditation as its own community college.

District officials say accreditation, and the autonomy that would come with it, is their goal. However, Collier noted that the process can take between five and 10 years, and in the meantime, the district needs an already-accredited college as a sponsor.

Pima Community College, now in talks to be SCCPCCD’s new partner, offered classes in the area for more than two decades before ending its local agreement in 2003 amid a funding dispute with the Santa Cruz County government. That opened the door for an agreement with Cochise College.

Since then, Cochise has offered classes, access to library resources, financial aid, advising and counseling to a growing student body in Nogales that this semester totaled 512. In an email to the NI, Cochise College President J.D. Rottweiler said the decision to leave the area after June 30 came from the realization that the college and district “have different objectives and are moving in different directions.”

Students at the Cochise College-Santa Cruz Center who have questions or concerns about the upcoming transition can contact Stella Perez, CEO of the local college district, at Perez also urged citizens to attend SCCPCCD board meetings, typically held the second Thursday of each month at 5 p.m. at the 2021 N. Grand Ave. campus. The next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 12.

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