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The good idea of allowing Arizona’s community colleges to offer four-year degrees is making some progress in the Legislature, which is encouraging. As we said last year when a similar bill died, it should happen.

Progress is coming in the form of an apparent decision by the state’s three universities not to block the bill outright. However, they are attaching some conditions. First, studies are required to determine if the colleges, which obviously are in the business of running educational programs and serving students, have the ability to hire the necessary faculty and run the programs. Also, a determination must be made that the degrees are in needed fields and don’t “unnecessarily duplicate” existing programs. There would be more restrictions for colleges in Maricopa and Pima counties. All this would delay implementation.

Tuition at the universities is running $9,000 and up per year. At community colleges such as Pinal County’s Central Arizona College, it is a fraction of that. For residents outside the metro areas, the ability to live with families also is a major cost consideration.

America overall has a serious problem with high college tuition and skyrocketing student debt. In the past, new assistance programs often have translated to increased costs to students. Today, more alternatives exist through technology, but we get the idea that what is missing often is just a lack of competition.

Recently Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich took a run at the universities over their failure to conform to a state constitutional mandate to make tuition “as nearly free as possible.” Unfortunately, he lost in court.

Not surprisingly, one Tucson legislator objected to House Bill 2523 by saying she knew of no need not being met by the universities.

The bill passed the House this week and went to the Senate, with university lobbyists still eyeing conditions. As the universities become ever bigger and raise their charges to students, the time is here to pass this bill.

— Donovan Kramer Jr.

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