On May 4, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a piece of legislation that permits community colleges throughout the state to expand their programming to include four-year degrees.
Arizona is the 24th state to grant community colleges this opportunity in an effort to contribute to the growing workforce and to expand the reach of higher education.
“Arizona’s community colleges play a critical role in supporting students of all ages and equipping our workforce with skills and resources,” Gov. Ducey stated in a press release.
For colleges looking to adopt new bachelor’s programs, each degree will need to be approved based on specific criteria such as the feasibility of the program and different workforce needs.
News of the legislation sent the Maricopa County Community Colleges into a frenzy of excitement, but it may be a while before its students will be able to enroll in four-year programs, officials there say.
Scottsdale Community College’s interim president, Chris Haines, explained that with the meticulous planning involved and legislation only recently passing, programs will likely not be offered until the fall of 2023.
“A lot of this will kind of get worked on through the next year or two...so we’ve still got a little time to get things worked out here,” Ms. Haines said.
Currently, no fixed plans have been made regarding the bachelor’s programs to be offered, however, colleges will presumably start more detailed planning this fall.
“There’s a lot, a lot of work to do and that’s probably why we’re still looking at fall of ‘23,” Ms. Haines said.
Until these degrees can be offered, roughly two years from now, SCC along with other Maricopa County Community Colleges will work together to create plans that will provide its students with quality and diverse programming.
The planning process will be intensive, according to Ms. Haines, as schools will need to consider tuition costs, curriculum and the hiring of instructors who can teach higher-level courses.
“It’s nothing we’re going to jump into, but we’re going to do the very best we can to have them have a great experience,” she said.
Each school will also research and decide on which programs to offer, considering mostly workforce areas in high demand like healthcare, information technology and education.
According to Ms. Haines, the school was especially hopeful for the legislation finally passing this year after their connections at the Capitol assured them that the bill was in motion.
“When it came down that it got to the governor’s desk and he signed it, we were all very excited,” she said. “We still had to figure out what that meant, but we’re really excited for our students and the access this provides.”
She explained that community colleges have been discussing this for years as it could further enhance access for students to opportunities, affordability and higher education through the initiative.
This is because oftentimes students cannot afford a bachelor’s degree at schools like Arizona State University or the University of Arizona.
But, by offering them at community colleges, students including those at SCC would have increased access to advanced degrees at a more reasonable price.
“I’m most excited about the ability for our students to get that degree and know that they aren’t going to be burdened for years and years and years when it comes to loans,” Ms. Haines said.
Although no set tuition has been decided on, she estimated that the price could be around $125 to $127 per credit hour, which is still a significant price difference from larger institutions.
Pricing largely affects student access to higher education, which is why a bachelor’s degree from a community college is an appealing choice for those who may not have the money to pay off massive student loan debts at a major university.
“Now they have a chance to stay with us and complete that degree and that’s what I’m really excited about is the opportunities for our students,” Ms. Haines said.
She also explained that SCC and other east valley colleges — like Chandler, Mesa and Gilbert — will collaborate to reassure and support students who take classes across different campuses.
“We want them to know that we’re going to do the very best we can to make sure that they can stay in the east valley and get the degree plans that they want,” Ms. Haines said.
SCC faculty is invested in ensuring student success according to Ms. Haines, which is why the school is taking the time to carefully craft its bachelor’s programs now that community colleges are allowed to offer them.
“We’re going to make sure that we do this right and that we’re solid on our processes, policies, and that everything we do is going to be to help students be successful,” she said.
With most students being off-campus as a result of COVID-19, it has been hard to gauge student sentiment about the new four-year programming to be offered.
The campus has been observing health and safety policies, like wearing masks and on-campus personnel has been limited.
“I heard back from a little bit of them,” Ms. Haines said. “I think most of those were the athletes that I get to see every once in a while, but they were all pretty excited about it.”
She noted that most students are aware of the recent legislation but she has not heard a wide variety of opinions on it.
“Everything’s kind of new right now so we’re really just trying to, first of all, enjoy it and we’re all excited about it,” Ms. Haines said. “But the hard work will begin probably this fall when we really start getting teams together and finding out what we can and can’t do.”