Gov. Jan Brewer wants lawmakers to explore creating a network of four-year colleges separate from the state university system.
In her message Tuesday to the Legislature, Brewer said there is no way the state can financially maintain a higher education system the way it is now set up. And the governor, who just asked lawmakers to sharply slash state funding for state universities and community colleges, said the state needs options beyond the extremes of further hikes in tuition or eliminating programs.
She wants an entire change in how education is delivered. And that, said Brewer, includes not just expanding existing programs that let students start their baccalaureate degrees at community colleges, but actually creating new four-year schools.
Another option would be having additional campuses for the state universities around the state, but with lower tuition than charged at the main campuses in Tucson, Tempe and Flagstaff.
And Brewer also wants to explore whether community colleges should be empowered to grant bachelor’s degrees.
Ultimately, she wants to double the number of students getting baccalaureate degrees by 2020.
The idea of an alternate pathway to a degree is not new.
Lawmakers debated a similar suggestion in 1983. But it was defeated amid opposition from lobbyists for the state’s three universities.
More recently, the idea has been fought by lobbyists for private, for-profit universities that do not want the additional competition.
Brewer’s message to lawmakers came as an alternative to a traditional state-of-the-state message. She chose not to give such a policy speech last week in the wake of the shootings in Tucson.
The governor, in her message, said there are less radical alternatives than four-year colleges or expanding the role of community colleges.
One option, she noted, would be expansion of “two-plus-two’’ programs. That allows students to take the first two years of their college work at a community college and complete their degree through one of the universities, either on a main campus or through already existing satellite programs mostly run by Northern Arizona University.
None of that, the governor said, means scrapping the three flagship universities.
“We must continue to encourage efforts that allow our universities to be strong, focused enterprises with more graduates with higher skills,’’ Brewer wrote in her message. But she said there also need to be “more choices in ways to learn, less dependency on buildings and less bureaucracy.’’
At the K-12 level, Brewer said the state can use a plan it prepared in an unsuccessful attempt last year to get a federal grant. The governor said this plan could improve the high school graduation rate by 2020 to 93 percent, up from 75 percent.
She also said at least 94 percent of third graders should be able to meet appropriate reading standards by that time. The current baseline, Brewer said, is just 69 percent.
Central to all of this is Brewer’s plan to create a new data system for public education.
Gubernatorial press aide Paul Senseman said there is no good system now for educators and legislators to figure out what works and what does not. He said the system, to be financed by a $15-per-student fee paid by schools, will enable achievement comparisons among school districts.
The governor said the basics already have been put in place to get the state to those goals. Brewer said that includes legislation approved two years ago which abolishes the essence of the tenure system “so that schools will be able to keep their best teachers based on achievement, not seniority.’’