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7:36 AM Tue, Dec. 11th

Community colleges critical of state university study

A group representing the schools insists that all higher education in the state be looked at.

PHOENIX – How the state will study the proposed restructuring of Arizona's university system is beginning to take shape amid new criticism by community colleges.

The Board of Regents on Tuesday released an outline of the study, including the appointment of key people and plans to seek input from groups ranging from students to community colleges.

The regents on June 3 authorized the yearlong study of a plan by Regent Chris Herstam and the university presidents to restructure the university system to respond to Arizona's rapid population growth.

The Herstam-presidents proposal would add two new universities and create a regional university system based at Northern Arizona University.

Under the proposal, Arizona State University-West would become Central Arizona University.

NAU-Yuma and the University of Arizona-South would combine to become Southern Arizona University.

ASU and UA would continue their growth as major research universities while the three regional universities would focus on undergraduate education.

The study will be conducted by a regents committee largely consisting of university officials but also including an education expert, a prominent Arizona public-policy researcher, Herstam and a senior regents aide.

Also, the study committee plans to begin holding "stakeholder" meetings beginning in August with representatives of interest groups such as university alumni, faculty, students, community colleges, business leaders, diversity groups and elected officials, the outline said.

A group representing nearly all of the state's 10 community college districts said the proposed restructuring gives short-shrift to the colleges' role in higher education.

"Clearly, a broader based, more strategic look must be taken at all of public higher education before the merits of any proposal can be studied or known," said Jan Guy, chair of the Arizona Community College Association and a Cochise Community College District trustee.

The association said it will commission a "white paper" in the next 30 days to "frame the public policy debate that must precede any meaningful discussion of redesigning higher education in Arizona."

Rufus Glasper, Maricopa Community Colleges chancellor, said he appreciated the regents' involvement of colleges in the study but said it wasn't enough.

"It comes as a disappointment that the Board of Regents does not consider the community colleges an equal partner in the redesign of higher education in Arizona," Glasper said.

The regents on June 3 had set July 1 as a deadline for presentation of alternative proposals for university restructuring, and several have been received.

The regents' outline of the study said researcher and state government veteran Mary Jo Waits will serve as the study committee's staff director.

Waits will step down June 30 as associate director of the Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy.