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Gila Community College in rural Arizona faces dilemma: budgets tighten while enrollment continues to grow

Payson Roundup
Larry Stephenson graduated high school in the bottom fourth of his high school class. He struggled during those years, and when the time for college arose, he chose Wenatchee Valley College, a two-year college in Washington.

Those two years transformed Stephenson’s attitude toward learning — and with it, his life. “They took me under their wing and I got excited about learning,” he said.

Today, Stephenson holds a Ph.D. in geography and works on forest health issues and sits on the Gila Community College (Gila) board, and continues the fight for improving the school to give kids like him access to a good education.

For more than a decade, advocates like Stephenson have devoted themselves to making Gila a thriving institution. But despite generations of effort, the fast-growing Gila Community College remains trapped in a strange and frustrating bureaucratic serfdom — with a nearly helpless elected board, a bewildering budget and a fraction of the state support other rural community colleges receive. Gila County’s tax base and population numbers fall beneath legislative thresholds, prohibiting it from operating its own community college.
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