Editorial: Expanded online service key to rural education offerings

The bricks-and-mortar model for community college education in rural Arizona has gone the way of typewriters and film cameras.

It no longer follows the "Field of Dreams" mantra of "If you build it they will come."

There is probably no better example of this than the Verde Campus of Yavapai College. The college spent $21 million in a five-year period to renovate and upgrade the Verde Campus, at a time when more and more students were opting for the online method of education delivery. The end result locally is highly underutilized classroom space at the same time some education advocates say the college needs to now build a career and technical education center in the Verde Valley.

Duh, if you can get students to come sit in a classroom, the Verde Campus has more than enough space already without having to build more.

Online Verde student enrollment went from 34 percent in 2010 to 47 percent in 2014, according to Yavapai College director of institutional effectiveness and research Tom Hughes. The Prescott campus online enrollment went from 27 to 40 percent during that same time period. As online numbers rise, in-class full-time enrollment declined four years consecutively. Growth rates were -3.58 and -1.13 percent, respectively, according a 2014 analysis provided by the college.

So it should come as no surprise when college board members Monday shared the opinion that online delivery is the key to bridging the gap between the county's rural areas and the primary campus in Prescott.

The most efficient way to do that is through high-speed broadband internet service throughout the county.

"We can deliver [online programs] provided the broadband is there," said Governing Board Member Albert Filardo of Clarkdale.

We're getting there. The expansion of Arizona 260 between Cottonwood and Camp Verde includes a broadband easement. Beyond that, Filardo projects it will cost about $27 million to expand the network throughout the rural areas of the county.

That will be a collective responsibility of all government jurisdictions in the county. The college, primary education, municipalities and the county all need to budget accordingly for broadband expansion.

The economic and education benefits will certainly follow.

If you put it online, they will come.

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