SIGNAL PEAK — Central Arizona College announced this week that it is providing free tuition to Pinal County residents for the fall 2021 and spring 2022 semesters. The decision was made possible by federal American Rescue Plan Act funding the school received earlier this year.

“CAC has the opportunity this year, financially, to provide free tuition for our county residents,” said Vice President of Student Services Jenni Cardenas. “Due to COVID, many students faced various challenges this past year. This is an opportunity for us to re-engage some Pinal County residents and jump-start a college career for others.”

CAC received around $11.9 million in funding from the ARPA program. CAC representatives confirmed that the free tuition program would come out of that money, something they had hinted at during previous Governing Board meetings.

CAC leadership also acknowledged that, to their knowledge, nothing like this has been done before.

For those who do not live in Pinal County, the college is offering a three-credit tuition waiver for fall 2021. The number of credits students can take is not limited, although students need to enroll in at least 12 credit hours to be considered full-time students. Students who already paid tuition will be refunded, although scholarships and financial aid will be credited to their accounts first before the full tuition discount is applied to the remaining balance.

Executive Director of Institution Effectiveness Dustin Maroney noted that currently, CAC enrollment is down 15% compared to prepandemic numbers. This is in line with data from the National Student Clearinghouse, which reported that as of March, community colleges were seeing double-digit enrollment declines nationwide.

The school also recently hosted an open house for its new Drive48 facility, which has partnered with stakeholders like Lucid Motors to provide training in advanced manufacturing skills and was designed to meet the needs of different regional employers.

CAC leadership said that they expected to see an increase in enrollment, but it is too early to determine what the actual numbers may be.

The cost of tuition at CAC prior to this week’s announcement was $86 per credit hour to in-state residents; out-of-state residents who attend CAC pay double that amount. Most full-time students take 12-15 credits per semester, and typically more than three-quarters of student enrollment comes from within the county.

The fall semester begins on Aug. 23. Students can register for fall classes by visiting www.centralaz.edu.

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Aaron Dorman is the Casa Grande reporter at PinalCentral, covering government, schools, business and more. He can be reached at adorman@pinalcentral.com.