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Adult learning thrives in the Sun Cities

New challenges, opportunities

Posted 1/21/22

Education is rapidly changing around the country, including at both the college level and with older adults.

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Subscriber Exclusive

Adult learning thrives in the Sun Cities

New challenges, opportunities


Education is rapidly changing around the country, including at both the college level and with older adults.

Linda Thor, Maricopa Community Colleges governing board member and former president emerita of Rio Salado College, shared several topics across the board in these two areas.

Challenges and opportunities face Maricopa Community Colleges, such as Estrella Mountain, Glendale and Rio Salado. The new authority given by the Legislature to offer baccalaureate degrees, challenges the pandemic has brought on, free community college and adult learning are important points the board must face, she said.

Thor also led the charge for the development of RISE Adult Learning in 1996 and was president of Rio Salado College September 1990-February 2010. This included the timing of both bond initiatives passing and the creation of the original and expanded RISE Adult Learning center. Early on, Thor said Mariocpa Community College District officials were seeking passage of a general obligation bond and she was assigned to work on providing information about the bond in the Sun Cities. After reaching out and informing individuals there would be a life-long learning center, the seniors were clear on what it should look like.

“They wanted college level learning at an affordable cost, short-term classes with no homework, no tests and no grades. And that is exactly what we built out,” she explained.

The first registration was conducted in person and the lines wrapped completely around the building, which is when Thor knew RISE Adult Learning met an unmet need in the Sun Cities. She said it is very gratifying 25 years later to see not only the program has been sustained, but seniors continue to have a vested interest in adult education and want to learn and teach as well.

Adult learning had to shift with the pandemic, including shutting down and then returning using an online teaching platform, which was new to the RISE Adult Learning organization. Participants were reluctant to the change, but then learned the format and continued to tackle subjects of interest and could also take classes from anywhere.

Thor spoke during a Jan. 11 presentation on the original Build Back Better plan, which included free community college. However, in an effort to reduce the total size of the plan, free community college was eliminated. But she said it does not seem to be dead yet and the Maricopa Community Colleges support any efforts that expands access and opportunities for students.

Thor said the proposal from the White House required a state federal match that would be smaller on the state side in the beginning, but would increase in size each year. The reason that is a problem, if that’s the way the plan is structured, is that in 2015 legislation eliminated any state aid to community colleges in the Maricopa Community College District. At one point, $57 million in operational aide came from the state and in 2008; it went down to zero in 2016.

“Today we do get some one-time money from the state and last year we got $12 million, but the state has not reinstated any kind of formula for us. Unless the structure of free community college is changed at the federal level it is likely going to be a challenge for us to be able to participate,” she said.

Looking into the baccalaureate degree opportunities likely headed to the Maricopa Community Colleges by fall 2023, tuition rates have yet to be voted on by the board. Currently, tuition for in-state students is offered at $84 per credit hour for upper division classes and the law allows for a increase of no more than 150% of the lower division. Using the example of $124.50 as the assumed maximum, that would make a baccalaureate degree at the community college level in the $10,000 range for all four years, which is a about a quarter of what a 4-year public university charges.

There are seven degrees offered at eight of the 10 community colleges and proposals for additional degrees will be considered on an annual cycle. Thor explained there will be no implication for property taxes. As of Jan. 19, Maricopa Community Colleges received $17.1 million from the tax on recreational marijuana, which specifically requires the money go towards a work force development program, which the baccalaureate degrees meet the workforce demand. Funding also comes from Proposition 301, which is also focused on a work force development program.

Enrollment declined all around. However, 28% of those attending one of the community colleges are dual-enrollment students. Maricopa Community Colleges were the first to offer dual enrollment. But across the nation, the numbers show 1.5 million high school graduates did not go to straight to college last year.


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