Central Arizona College opened its doors 50 years ago after years of work and dreaming by some farsighted community leaders in Pinal County. The college has celebrated each decade of its existence, but this milestone fittingly is being marked throughout the whole academic year, starting this month. After many thousands of Pinal residents have received degrees and certificates and many others have attended classes, the college certainly has much to be proud of. Last year alone the total enrollment was more than 8,000.
The county was much smaller in the 1960s as leaders struggled to build consensus for a college that had a name long before it became a reality. There was a rivalry between regions in a far-flung county over where CAC would be located. Some interests and citizens did not want to approve more property taxes. Finally a pristine area at the base of Signal Peak was chosen — a compromise site halfway between the leading population centers of Casa Grande and Coolidge. This followed many meetings and strategy sessions among volunteers and failure at the polls.
The college later built a second campus near the mines of eastern Pinal at the urging of major taxpayers there. Later, campuses were added in the growing areas of Apache Junction, Maricopa and San Tan Valley. Other sites provide courses as well.
The college quickly became a major employer and an uplifting force for workers and young people. It also became a center for cultural events.
Today the cost of higher education is a major issue in America, although that always has been a concern. Meanwhile, tuition at CAC is much lower than at many institutions, and students have the ability to live at home and save major costs. Recently, CAC has rededicated itself to providing technical skills for workers in area industrial plants, including those in new automotive technology that will be in demand soon.
CAC has been a crucial part of Pinal County for half a century, and we can only imagine the role it will play in the next 50 years.