Higher education in Arizona will become more accessible in 2023 after the passing of a recent bill that now allows community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees, a shift that will “benefit the community at large,” according to Matt Hasson, Maricopa Community Colleges District Office’s (MCCD) chief communications officer.

When Senate Bill 1453 (SB 1453), sponsored by Republican Sen. Paul Boyer, was signed into a law in May 2021, Arizona became the 24th state to allow two-year community colleges to offer four-year degree programs, a feat that was a long time in the making, according to Hasson.

READ ALSO: Ranking Arizona: Top 10 charter and private schools for 2021

“We’ve been perusing this for roughly 25 years, so this is pretty historic legislation, and is very, very big news and very historic news for our community,” Hasson said.

Hasson explained plans for baccalaureate degrees were already in the making and community college representatives began drafting proposals as soon as the bill was passed.

“It was a lot of celebration that turned immediately into work,” Hasson said. “The moment that this was passed, we immediately launched a team of experts that are going to begin to do the leg work of helping select what programs we’re going to offer out of the gate.”

MCCD is the state’s largest community college district, fostering 10 colleges across the Phoenix area. In a recent press release, MCCD released its first round of bachelor’s degrees that are currently awaiting approval from the Higher Learning Commission and Maricopa Community Colleges Governing Board.

Maricopa Community Colleges’ proposed four-year degrees include:

• Bachelor of Applied Sciences, programming and data analytics: Mesa Community College.

• BAS, information technology: Estrella Mountain Community College, Phoenix College.

• BAS, public safety administration: Phoenix College, Rio Salado College.

• BAS, nuclear medicine technology and computed tomography: GateWay Community College.

• Bachelor of Science, behavioral health science: South Mountain Community College.

• Bachelor of Arts, early childhood education-dual language: Mesa Community College.

• BA, Education, dual certification in elementary/special education: Glendale Community College, Paradise Valley Community College, Rio Salado College.

Hasson explained drafts for these programs and the pickings of the programs themselves took a “big, collaborative effort across the board,” as MCCD worked closely with the Higher Learning Commission and MCCD colleges to develop curriculum that was in accordance with degree requirement outlines in SB 1453.

The law requires the four-year degree programs to show “evidence of market demand” and offer material not available at state universities in an attempt to aid workforce needs in Phoenix, according to the legislation. Students will be studying material that will prepare them for industries in need of more workers, and state universities will not suffer as material in these degrees will be specialized to meet the needs of the community, Hasson explained.

“We want to have an impact on the community,” Hasson said. “We’re looking at, what are the high demand professions that are coming out? There’s a benefit to the community with those jobs because we need more experts in those fields.”

Some Phoenix high school have similar systems in place to prepare students for the Phoenix workforce that will working together with MCCD to ensure students have a smooth transition between high school and college.

ElevateEdAZ is a state program that allows students to start earning college credit and workforce experience in programs designed to meet workforce demands in Phoenix.

“Our whole mission is to better prepare Arizona students for college and career, and we heave really strong relationships with the business community … being connected to the greater Phoenix chamber,” said ElevateEdAZ director Brittany Holmes. “We want to make sure students have multiple options, whether they go directly into the workforce or into higher education.”

As both ElevateEd programs and four-year degree programs are formed around industry demand, both programs end up teaching material from similar industries. Holmes explained ElevateEdAZ has been working with local community colleges to better align their programs.

“Phoenix Union High School, for example, is doing a lot of work right now figuring out how programs … map into their nearest community colleges,” Holmes said. “Making sure that there’s that connection between high school and how those student progress and matriculate into community college is huge.”

Both Holmes and Hasson have emphasized the positive impact workforce-centered learning will have on the community.

“It’s kind of a win-win where businesses have a huge gap with workforce…and our education system needs more support,” Holmes said.

“At the end of the day, the more of our neighbors, friends and family that have access to higher education, the better it is for our community,” Hasson said. “We’re proud to be a part of it.”