Legislative process includes colleges, students

By J.D. Rottweiler, Ph.D.

J.D. RottweilerFebruary is a busy month at the legislature, as various budgets are proposed, reviewed, debated and promoted. Arizona legislators, including the Cochise County delegation, have been extremely supportive of community colleges. Last year, the legislature dedicated $35 million to community colleges. This included $14.2 million in one-time dollars for rural colleges. The result of that allocation in Cochise County is a new automotive technology training center currently under construction at the Sierra Vista Campus, implementation of a virtual reality developer program at the Downtown Center, and a greenhouse for the agriculture program in Douglas. This year’s proposed budgets include anywhere from $6.15 million to $19 million for rural colleges. Rural schools tend to have a much smaller base for property taxes than urban schools, creating challenges for those colleges to advance as quickly as their urban peers.

This month, Arizona’s 10 community college districts will join together for A Taste of Community Colleges, taking place Wednesday, Feb. 19 in the Arizona Capitol Rose Garden. Each college will showcase specific academic and training programs, and demonstrate that public investment in this sector of education has a positive return. For the legislators who visit, there will be lots to see.

Community colleges provide real-world learning to 300,000 students in Arizona. No two are exactly alike; some programs are repeated in several locations, while others are unique to an institution and the needs of the community it serves. At the capitol, the colleges will share information about agriculture, creative arts, automotive technology, virtual auto painting, virtual welding, fire science, law enforcement, dental studies, robotics and 3D printing. Cochise College will exhibit aviation, with staff members and students bringing an unmanned aerial vehicle along on the trip.

In addition to the upcoming community college showcase, I had the opportunity to bring along six Cochise College students to participate in legislative visits and information sharing on Feb. 3. The students were introduced on the Senate floor and given personalized tours of the House and Senate chambers. Senate Appropriations Chair David Gowan, a big supporter of Cochise College and the additional funding for the rural colleges, provided the students an amazing tour of the old capitol. We also had office visits with House Majority Whip Becky Nutt, and chair of the House Education Committee Michelle Udall. In addition to individual visits with legislators, the students also attended a meeting of the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Committee, chaired by Senator Heather Carter, in support of my presentation about Cochise College workforce programs.

The students who attended included a social and behavioral sciences major and budding archaeologist, a 17-year-old home-schooled student considering a welding career, a cybersecurity student in his second semester at Cochise, an active member of Douglas Campus Student Government and other campus clubs, a fine arts major planning to transfer to Western New Mexico University, and a business administration student who enjoys giving motivational speeches.

Our students’ stories and aspirations are as diverse as the communities of Arizona and the colleges that serve them. You’ll see more about these students in an upcoming news article about their trip to the capitol, as it’s not an experience everyone has had. In the meantime, I want to thank the legislators who made time to meet with our students and look forward to welcoming them at the community college showcase next week.

J.D. ROTTWEILER, Ph.D., is president of Cochise College. Contact him at jdr@cochise.edu.