Harris seek District 3 seat on Yavapai College Board: Q&A

Connie Harris

Connie Harris

Yavapai-Apache Nation Tribal Council Chairwoman Jane Russell-Winiecki recently said in a commentary that Yavapai College is “sadly lacking” and that the current model of governance “is ineffective.” Do you agree with the chairwoman’s statement? Please explain.

Harris: Yavapai College is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with its mission to provide quality higher learning and cultural resources for the diverse population of the county. It is a strong, comprehensive college, which currently provides 65 certification programs and 32-degree programs, along with an array of additional learning and enrichment services. YC transfer students place in the top 10% nationally for their GPA (grade point average). They also outperform junior Arizona students who started as freshmen the three state universities.

In partnership with VACTE and high school partners, the college offers 19 career and technical education (CTE) programs in the Verde Valley that prepare students to enter the workforce. This includes over $10 million of investments in state-of-the-art culinary kitchens at the Sedona Center, as well as the Southwest Wine Center at the Verde Campus. Both of which were created in response to the economic development needs expressed by the Verde Valley communities.

For non-credit classes in the Verde, the college has grown its OLLI chapters, which are created for senior citizen students, and re-introduced the College for Kids program, which is designed for K-12 learners. The college provides roughly $100,000 of scholarships to students who live in the Verde by providing deep discounts to high school students taking college courses through dual enrollment.

With several community colleges in the Phoenix and the Tucson areas, as well as four-year universities north and south of the Verde Valley, what do you believe that Yavapai College needs to do to remain a relevant and desirable option for post-secondary learners?

Harris: To remain relevant and a desirable option Yavapai College needs to focus forward on being visionary and proactive in delivering learning programs needed now and into the future. YC needs to listen and elicit input from the residents on interests and needs as well as researched trends.

Based on information we receive from the state, we know that YC remains high school graduates school of choice, with over six in ten college-bound local graduates choosing to attend YC. YC’s price is roughly one-quarter of the list price at Arizona’s public universities, and the price is about the average of the other two-year community colleges in Arizona. Furthermore, fully implementing the Pathways Initiative to support student success, for example, is a means of increasing completion rates and personalizing the learners’ experience.

With the Verde Valley’s reputation as the place where young people flee once they graduate high school, what could Yavapai College do to keep young people in the area for college – and beyond?

Harris: Young people and their families are smart consumers. If they can save up to $34,000 by completing their first two years of college by staying in their hometown area, they will. Or if they can learn some skills in two years or less, which studies show will allow the average person increase their wages by $6,700 per year, they will because that is more than a $250,000 payback over a 40-year career.

YC needs to start early and articulate with K-12 schools in collaborating and setting expectations to extend education and training beyond high school. It needs to show how this can be affordable and accomplished with a personalized approach where students are supported along their pathways.

In terms of getting graduates to stay in the region, YC needs to work together to attract businesses with living wage jobs. The College’s Regional Economic Development Center will continue to support local town councils and chambers of commerce with information to support that goal. There are endless opportunities in the Verde Valley.

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