More than a dozen people attended the Santa Cruz County Provisional Community College District board meeting last Thursday, one of the largest turnouts in recent months.

Pima Community College will not be able to provide full educational services in Nogales immediately following Cochise College’s departure June 30, officials said, leaving Santa Cruz County students without a local community college, at least on a temporary basis.

The acknowledgement follows meetings of the PCC board last Wednesday and the Santa Cruz County Provisional Community College District (SCCPCCD) board on Thursday at which the possibility of a new partnership between the entities was discussed.

Asked during a phone interview Friday if she could now confirm that the SCCPCCD will be unable to provide full community college services in Nogales as of July 1, board president Liz Collier said: “As things stand right now, that is fair to say.” 

Mark Hanna, president of PCC’s governing board, agreed with Collier during a phone call later that day, saying “there’s not much chance” his institution will be able to take over Cochise’s role starting this summer.

However, the PCC governing board directed the college’s chancellor to consider a possible future partnership with SCCPCCD, and local college officials said they hope to provide educational services in some form after June 30.

Hanna said the potential partnership with SCCPCCD “could come in several different ways,” ranging from busing Santa Cruz County students to an existing PCC site to opening a satellite campus at the district’s Santa Cruz Center on the corner of Grand Avenue and Mariposa Road in Nogales. If the PCC board agrees to partner with SCCPCCD, he said, they would need to negotiate a contract and gain approval from their accreditor and the federal Department of Education. He could not provide an estimate of how long this process would take.

Hanna said the PCC board is pursuing an arrangement with local officials out of “concern for the students of Santa Cruz County who are now in a tough situation because of the cessation of the hosting by Cochise College.”

“On the other hand,” he said, “we need to be concerned about our own financial stability, our own accreditation issues.”

Also of concern to PCC, as outlined in its April 12 meeting agenda, is that while SCCPCCD is interested in gaining accreditation, “PCC is not interested in pursuing an agreement with SCCPCCD by which PCC would actively facilitate and support full accreditation for SCCPCCD.”

After learning of PCC’s board’s decision, SCCPCCD board members gave district CEO Stella Perez permission to work with Pima on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), a document that could eventually lead to a partnership between the two institutions.

Santa Cruz County college officials have been in talks with Pima leaders since early December after learning that Cochise College would not renew its contract after June 30. It appeared that Cochise might extend its services through the end of the year to allow more time for a transition to a new partner college, but that deal fell apart in late February.

Alternative plans

During the SCCPCCD board meeting last Thursday, Perez said she would like to explore if PCC could provide individual classes after June 30 as opposed to a full academic program.

Collier agreed with the need to provide at least some college academic services to local students, telling the NI on Friday: “Those graduating high school seniors, we want to give them some alternative to sitting at home or having to drive (to another campus).”

She said those options could include offering remedial course work and helping students sign up and take online classes at the Santa Cruz Center.

Speaking at the board meeting by phone, Dave Pauole, the district’s lawyer, said Cochise College may need to maintain an office at the Santa Cruz Center after June 30 for an advisor to help existing students understand their education options. He said Cochise may also be interested in opening a site in Santa Cruz County for its teach-out program.

Cochise College is obligated to provide a teach-out plan so current Santa Cruz Center students can finish their education. Cochise President J.D. Rottweiler said in a previous interview that the plan would allow students to complete their coursework online, at another Cochise College campus – such as those in Sierra Vista, Benson or Douglas – or through a hybrid option. Cochise officials could not immediately be reached to confirm their interest in opening a teach-out site in the county or explain what role it would serve.

Because scholarship funds were previously managed by Cochise College, the SCCPCCD board also directed Perez to research whether the district should create its own scholarship foundation or partner with an existing one.

The next SCCPCCD board meeting is set for 5 p.m. on May 11 at 2021 N. Grand Ave. in Nogales.

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