By Shain Bergan
So, this happened.
Basically, the story in the Arizona Daily Wildcat chronicles Arizona Board of Regents President Ernest Calderon’s presentation of the Regents’ plan to make college more affordable via, well, delaying students’ college experience. Well, kind of…
More specifically, Calderon would like Arizona’s universities to implement a three-plus-one system, meaning that the first two years of a student’s college experience at the University of Arizona would actually be at Tucson-based Pima Community College, with the third year still at community college, but with university curriculum. Apparently only the fourth year would actually take place on the UA campus.
Although Calderon wants to integrate this new system into state higher education over the next few semesters, it has yet to be approved for the UA, as President Robert Shelton has not yet presented such a plan to the Regents. However, Shelton may unveil a plan at the ABOR meeting in March, or the subsequent one in June. It’s worth noting that NAU has already adopted the plan starting next semester.
The Wildcat article gives the impression that such a plan would be a requirement for students, rather than optional, so we’re going to assume that for now.
There are still many questions unanswered, mainly concerning the supposed savings, as that was the main reason given for the proposed structure change. Sure it costs less to go to Pima than the UA, but if it’s UA curriculum full of UA students fulfilling their requirements for the university, what exactly makes it Pima? The location? And how does this translate into savings?
I suppose the safe answer is that the savings for the students will come in the first two years when they are taking in Pima curriculum before their freshman—er, I mean, junior year at the UA. However, it’s that third year where things get tricky.
Whenever we see curriculum and student agreements between the UA and Pima, there’s a deal—there’s a cashflow. And those are just small projects by comparison (things like making sure classes transfer, prerequisites align, individual curriculum agreements, etc.). This would be a major overhaul, thus most likely yielded decidedly larger cash flows and financial deals between Pima and the UA.
My point is this—once this is all implemented, where’s the guarantee that a degree will actually be significantly cheaper? My guess is there isn’t one. Now, juxtaposing that, what’s the guarantee that then such a UA degree would be less valued and of overall lower quality? A UA degree would almost certainly seem less prestigious in quality.
After all, if three-quarters of your college schooling comes from Pima, and you actually only spend one year on the UA campus, what exactly makes it a UA degree? Isn’t it actually a community college degree dressed up as the emperor in new clothes? Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with Pima involvement, but let’s call it what it is when instead of transferring a few classes from Pima, most of your schooling is from there—watering down an already jeopardized UA degree structure.
Of course, what Calderon and Shelton seem to not be taking into account is the likelihood that attendance in these three-plus-one colleges will fall, meaning potential students may go elsewhere and to take their money with them. If this happens, the colleges will have to make up for the lost revenue. Then where are the savings?
Probably the best retort to Calderon’s idea came from UA Postdoctoral Research Associate Brendan Cantwell in the Wildcat article, pointing out to Calderon that:
“Your plans suggest a lot of increased differentiation and expansion of access without a lot of new investment. To me, that suggests that quality is going to drop, perhaps, and retention may suffer as a result…So how do you intend to increase degree completion rates along expanding access?”
Calderon’s immediate rebuttal? Something along the lines of the old “well, let me answer your question with a question” gag routine:
“Let me ask you this question in response: How are we going to get that investment?”
The way we wished Cantwell would’ve responded to this:
“Yeah, I literally just asked you that.”
And they say transparency is dead…