The four community colleges, serving all of northern Arizona, are in the early stages of a historic partnership aimed at combining resources to better serve their students and communities.
Mohave Community College President Stacy Klippenstein estimates that his school currently serves about 20,000 students in four counties, alongside Northland Pioneer College, Coconino Community College and Yavapai College.
Additionally, these schools often face the same challenges when it comes to meeting the needs of their students, faculty and staff, including size, higher cost of living and reliable broadband access. This collaboration, university leaders said, is one way to address these challenges.
“The Northern Arizona Community College Partnership is a way for us to add value to our communities without increasing costs,” said CCC Provost Nate Sutherland.
While the partnership is still in its early stages, the university leadership is considering all the ways this joint effort could make a difference for the students.
This includes potential sharing of courses, faculty, technology, software licenses, and other resources. Additionally, the collaboration will likely strengthen any future grant applications that come from a unified front, as opposed to a single school.
One of the biggest obstacles that every college mentions is size. Because students are so spread out, sometimes there just aren’t enough students in a particular field to justify offering a particular program. This partnership could change that dynamic.
For example, both CCC and MCC are considering developing a marine maintenance program, with Mohave focused on nearby Lake Havasu and Coconino interested in Lake Powell.
In the past, there may not have been enough students at each school who were interested enough to justify setting up this program. But combining students from all four schools could potentially fill a class.
“It would be difficult for any of us to have enough students to do it all on our own,” Sutherland said. “So by working together, we can run a program with enough students to sustain the program.”
“Sometimes it improves access to existing programs, and sometimes it gives us the opportunity to develop new programs that none of us could have done on our own,” he said.
In addition to creating new programs, a priority for these schools is to ensure that students actually finish what they start.
According to Diane Ryan, vice president of academic affairs at YC, the majority of students enrolled in northern Arizona’s community colleges, about 75%, attend part-time, exceeding the national average of about 64%.
“So getting students through a program on time is really a challenge because they only take six credit hours a semester instead of 12 or 15,” Ryan said.
At the same time, she said, local labor partners are expressing a greater need for new workers to meet increased demand, be it in manufacturing, education or healthcare.
As a result, Ryan said they’re looking at ways to restructure certain programs to equip students with the skills they need to enter the workforce as employers have started offering on-the-job training for what they might be in one learned longer course.
This is just one way college leadership works to ensure these people work locally when they ultimately receive their degrees or certifications.
“It’s not just about keeping them in the state of Arizona, it’s about keeping them in our county,” Sutherland said.
For example, in the past, welding was one of NPC’s most popular programs, but those graduates often had to look elsewhere for permanent work, said NPC President Chato Hazelbaker.
And with the imminent closure of nearby coal-fired power plants, students are losing interest in energy and industrial technology, shifting their focus to higher-demand industries like healthcare, construction and even cosmetics, Hazelbaker said.
This shift is also aided by a broader concerted effort to diversify the economies of northern Arizona’s many rural communities.
The overall goal is to move further away from the hospitality and tourism jobs, which make up a large part of northern Arizona’s economy but don’t often translate into high-paying non-management jobs, Sutherland explained.
That way, if one business or industry fails, those areas won’t be affected as much because other areas are still thriving.
“It’s really about getting more graduate degrees because that lifts all boats economically in various other ways,” Hazelbaker said.
Reach out to Northern Arizona reporter Lacey Latch at firstname.lastname@example.org or on social media @laceylatch. Northern Arizona coverage on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is funded by the nonprofit Report for America and a grant from the Vitalyst Health Foundation in association with The Arizona Republic.