County News

Yavapai College President Penny Wills cemented her commitment to a culinary program in the Verde Valley while speaking to the Verde Valley Board Advisory Committee Wednesday, Feb. 3.

“Let me assure you, we were already working on a culinary program before this committee was formed,” Wills said, adding that the decision to center such a program in the Verde Valley was obvious due to the area’s beauty and tourism industry.

According to Wills, the Yavapai College Sedona Center is an attractive option to house the program and she is actively considering the facility for that purpose. “What is the best use of that building? It could be very good for culinary …. We’ve got all the data.”

VVBAC member Randy Garrison praised Wills for considering Sedona as a viable option, adding that the college’s current culinary offerings at Camp Verde High School do not constitute a “whole-hearted effort” to house a permanent culinary program.

“Considering Sedona is really good news for us,” Garrison said.

Wills stressed the importance of making sure the culinary program would be sustainable, allowing opportunities for both credit- and noncredit-seeking students. Placing it within the Verde Valley or Sedona would allow it to become a “destination program” for nonlocal students.

“To me, it doesn’t matter if it’s credited or non-credit courses,” Wills said. “It’s all about the community and what it wants …. I’ve heard this from the very beginning: ‘We want culinary.’”

Offering more than the standard certification and credited course makes sense, according to Wills. Many students are simply seeking an avenue to learn something — especially in the Verde Valley, which boasts a larger than average retirement community.

“Chances are, they aren’t looking for a degree,” Wills said. “We could do more with community education.”

While seeking additional sources of funding for the culinary program, Wills reported that she has repeatedly gotten the same advice from potential backers: “Get Sedona into this, and we can sell it better.”

VVBAC member Carolyn Fisher asked Wills what the college is doing to provide access to outlying communities in the Verde Valley.

Wills responded that in her opinion the college should have taken more advantage of federal funds, specifically those targeted as stimulus funds. This, she said, would have allowed Yavapai College to expand its broadband potential to outlying communities.

Regarding transportation, Wills said that it was not the college’s responsibility to fix any actual or perceived transportation issues within the county.

“My perception is that all of Yavapai County is rural,” Wills said, adding that she is “still convinced there’s money out there” to assist in getting education to individuals in remote locations.

Wills dismissed the idea of increasing programs without data to support their inclusion, saying that she would not compromise the goal of providing students a way to achieve a livable wage for their families.

“As much as I’d love an equine program, the data doesn’t support it,” she said.

VVBAC Chairman Paul Chevalier asked about the upcoming vote to approve a $10-per-credit-hour fee for high school dual enrollment courses and the possibility of opening a health care education facility in Camp Verde.

While not rejecting any ideas, Wills said “$10 per credit hour isn’t much” and that outside consultants had not recommended the Verde Valley for a health care education facility.

In closing, Wills said she would like to hear people expressing a positive outlook toward the college — for members of the public to “talk up” its programs and potential in the Verde Valley.


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