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CCC: Coconino County’s Best-Kept Secret 

I sometimes think that community colleges are one of Arizona’s best-kept secrets, and they shouldn’t be. 

According to a recent report in The Arizona Republic, more than two-thirds of new jobs in the state will require some sort of post-secondary education. Additionally, getting a post-secondary credential or degree is worth it, considering higher earnings over a lifetime. 

For example, according to a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, a person with an associate degree can expect to earn about 32 percent more throughout a lifetime than a person with a high school diploma. A person with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn even more. 

That’s where community colleges and universities come in, and community colleges are perfectly poised to offer a better quality of life through increased earnings. 

CCC is built on three pillars: Affordable pathways to a four-year degree (community college educations cost about one-third of a university education); getting people quickly into the workforce through Career and Technical Education to help train and retrain people for jobs relevant in today’s workforce; finally, providing continuing education and non-credit courses along a variety of artistic and academic interests for the lifelong learners in our communities. 

I have spent my entire career at community colleges – first as a faculty member, and later in administration. I firmly believe, and the data supports it, that community colleges are a pathway to a better life. CCC has given, and continues to give, many county residents that chance.  

Our graduates and certificate holders have become paramedics, nurses, attorneys, physicians, scientists, engineers, counselors, firefighters, builders and so much more. Many are able to stay in the community in which they grew up, and are able to spend time – and their dollars – supporting our county. 

Students choose a community college for many different reasons. Some come to us as an affordable entry to a four-year degree. Some come to us to phase into academic life in a small classroom setting, because large classes in big institutions can be overwhelming. Others come to us because they want to learn new skills in information technology, health care, building trades and quickly get into the workforce. Still others come to us for a new career when their jobs or passions change. We regularly meet with business and government leaders to discuss what hard and soft skills are most important to them to help make their businesses successful. 

The college is funded through the help of property taxes, tuition and fees and support from the state. State support has diminished through the years to less than 10 percent of CCC’s budget. Because the property tax rate supporting CCC is the lowest in Arizona (about two-thirds lower than the next), the decline in state funding has impacted CCC more than any of the other colleges in the state. We’ve raised tuition costs in recent years to help CCC maintain the quality educational services county residents have come to expect. 

The time has come for us to reaffirm our task of being innovative as we continue to seek other funding options for CCC. We must continue to grow our partnerships with business, with government, with non-profits and with residents passionate about our ever-important mission. It will continue to be a priority for us moving forward, and I know we’re up to the task. 

It’s time for everybody in all of our communities across the county to know: CCC is here when they need us – whether it be to attain an associate degree or earn a certificate, to transfer to university or learn a new trade, to improve skills for a current job or simply for the love of learning and being creative. 

Let’s let the cat out of the bag. Let’s freely share the vital benefits community colleges across the state give to our communities. It’ll be worth it for all of us. 

Onward! FBN 

By Colleen Smith 


Colleen A. Smith, Ph.D., is the president of Coconino Community College. 


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