Brand name education at store brand prices

Everybody loves a bargain. Whether it’s a pack of gum or a new car, people are willing to overlook a few minor preferences to save some major cash. It might be nice to own top-of-the-line brand name stuff, but sometimes the family budget requires a little sacrifice. That doesn’t mean what you’re buying is inferior because after all, sometimes when you buy the brand names, you’re only paying for the name.

There are two proposals circulating that could have Arizonans buying bargain-basement bachelor’s degrees from community colleges instead of the state’s universities.

Rep. Laura Knaperek (R-Tempe) has authored a bill (HB 2079) that would allow people to earn undergraduate degrees in nursing, teaching, firefighting or law enforcement at a community college. Knaperek says her bill, currently in committee, would address a shortage of qualified professionals in those fields.

At the same time, the Board of Regents’ Feasibility and Planning Workgroup has held hearings throughout the state on a plan to overhaul Arizona’s universities in part to add diversity to the student body and to vary tuition.

Besides possibly adding more nurses, teachers and fire and police officers, Knaperek’s plan has advantages for Winslow students and rural Arizona.

First, the tuition savings for matriculating at, say Northland Pioneer College instead of the University of Arizona, Arizona State University or Northern Arizona University would be significant. Tuition and fees at the three state universities and their branches are nearly $4,100 per year for Arizona residents. Twelve credit hours at NPC cost $1,368, not including course fees, for the current semester.

Room and board or housing of any kind would add even more costs. And I doubt living at home and making the daily commute from Winslow to Tucson or Tempe would save you much in the long run.

Considering the average Arizona undergraduate student’s debt was $17,061 as of the end of the 2003-04 school year, a penny saved is a penny that’s not accumulated thousands of dollars in debt interest.

That’s assuming community colleges don’t raise tuition and fees. And we all know what assuming does to you. At least one community college president said tuition for upperclassmen would probably be doubled that for freshmen and sophomores.

Now here’s where rule of the caveat emptor (buyer beware) plays a part. The community colleges will need money up front to cover the costs of educating students for two more years. Knaperek’s bill allows for adjustments to community college budgets but doesn’t fully address where the money will come from. At Great Basin College in Elko, Nev., the state Legislature appropriated $1.5 million for the college to begin offering courses and an additional $800,000 in the second year.

Knaperek’s bill passed 31-24 in the House and is now in Senate committees. If the bill fails, Rep. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa) has introduced a broader bill that would allow community colleges to offer any four-year degrees.

Under the Board of Regents plan, tuition levels will vary by campuses in the system.

UA’s and ASU’s main campuses will have the highest tuition; NAU in Flagstaff, ASU-East and ASU-West will be slightly less expensive and will focus on undergraduate and master’s education; and UA-South, and NAU’s other sites around the state will have the lowest tuition. Just how much they differ is being decided.

With most major purchases, you get what you pay for. But when it comes to education, the greater the effort you put into it, the greater the rewards. And a good education is priceless.

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