Coconino Community College is celebrating a milestone this month as the first time it has been debt-free in 20 years.
In June, the college made its last payment to a $25 million bond approved by voters in 1997 and issued in 1999, successfully paying off all buildings funded by the bond, including the Lone Tree Campus.
“It’s a good feeling to celebrate the successes of Coconino Community College in being able to serve students and our communities because of the support we received to build these facilities,” said Colleen Smith, CCC president.
She said this effort – being good stewards of the community’s investment – required consistent, timely payments in spite of state funding cuts, as well as an innovatively thrifty District Governing Board.
“Part of it is grit and determination. We have great people who work hard, who believe in the mission of the community college, who are in there for the right reason – for students,” Smith said.
The repaid bond is only the second major public funding initiative in the college’s history to be passed by voters. Failures of ballot measures have occurred since the beginning, including a measure in last year’s election.
The first initiative, a property tax levy to raise $2.2 million, formed the college and gave it a home in a former shopping center on Fourth Street. The bond that has just been repaid allowed for the creation of the Lone Tree Campus, Page Instructional Site and Williams Learning Center, renovation of the Fourth Street building and implementation of online programs to reach students in more remote parts of the county.
The Williams facility was closed in 2013 because of lack of funding, a continued concern for the college.
Steve Peru, CCC chief development and government relations officer, said property taxes, tuition/fees and state financial aid should ideally each make up about a third of the college’s funding; however, state funding never rebounded after the last recession.
State contributions now make up only about 9% of the college’s $18 million annual operating budget, leaving administrators to seek other partnerships.
“We’re always looking at grants and foundations, as most organizations do, but in our case, it’s funding the guts of the programs,” Peru said.
These types of support have additional financial benefits over public funding like bonds.
“Grants and partnerships make a huge difference. They are the kinds of things that will help us maintain that debt-free capacity so that we can pour everything into programs for students,” Smith said.
Such funding also helps with programs for community members, like the CCC Summer Learning Program happening this month for county residents and visitors who want to keep learning.
Though participants were initially asked to pay a fee to access the 24 noncredit sessions on history, culture and more, because of donations from partners, the remaining sessions (starting Monday) will now be offered to the public for free. For more information on the program and a schedule of classes, visit www.coconino.edu/community-education.
Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at email@example.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253.
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