The University of Arizona

Regents Approve Funding for Rural Education Initiative

By Johnny Cruz, December 10, 2007

The Arizona Board of Regents approved $1.06 million in new funding to The University of Arizona to support a rural education initiative that will deliver new degree programs in Arizona’s border counties. The UA will receive $500,000 in fiscal year 2008, $292,789 in 2009 and $250,000 in 2010 for this initiative.

For many employed adults in rural southern Arizona, advancing their education is not an option because they cannot afford to relocate to be nearer to one of the state's three universities, whose main campuses are in Tucson, Phoenix and Flagstaff.

Offering education in rural areas has been difficult for universities as well, as costs for delivering educational programs has risen without the sufficient funding to support these efforts.

As a result, any of the Arizona university system’s distance education programs have been concentrated near urban centers, where enrollment growth is dramatic and infrastructure costs are lower.

In addition, rural Arizona, like the rest of rural America, is losing its best and brightest young people to urban areas. Many of these students never return, not realizing the opportunities for long-term employment that may exist in their growing rural communities.

With the support of new funds – approved during the Arizona Board of Regents meeting held at Arizona State University last week – the UA is creating a model for providing educational opportunities in rural Arizona.

Based on initial research conducted by the UA, the answer to providing more high-quality, high-demand educational programs in rural Arizona lies in a hybrid model – one that combines online courses with those taught face-to-face.

University research also has found that many individuals currently serving as teacher aides in communities such as Nogales would enroll in teacher education programs if an affordable, quality program were available close to home.

Other strategies the UA will employ to achieve cost efficiencies include:

  • Recruiting a small number of dedicated, technologically savvy teaching faculty who are willing to live in target communities or travel there regularly.
  • Pursue community investment in infrastructure, such as providing teacher education courses after hours at local high schools.
  • Focusing investment in select high-demand, high-quality programs – such as teacher education and entrepreneurship – allowing for consistent content growth and economies of scale.

This model also requires the UA to partner with counties, cities and other educational institutions to maximize resources.

The UA plans to deliver teacher training and entrepreneurship programs in Arizona’s border counties, beginning with on-site faculty in Douglas and Nogales, working in close coordination with programs at the Tucson campus.

Enrollment is expected to increase by 50 students each year and the programs are expected to become financially self-sustaining within three years.

Funds will come from the Technology and Research Initiative Fund. The fund, known as TRIF, is a special investment in higher education made possible by the passage of Proposition 301 in November 2000. Proceeds from a 0.6-cent increase in state sales tax are apportioned to statewide education at all levels. Each Arizona university determines how it will invest its allocations.