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Community colleges in Arizona gear up to offer 4-year degrees

(Yelp Photo/Maricopa Community Colleges)

PHOENIX — Community colleges throughout Arizona can offer four-year degrees starting this fall, but they’ll only be able to do so in limited areas.

“We won’t be offering four-year degrees in just any area,” Darcy Renfro, chief workforce and economic development officer for the Maricopa County Community College District, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“We’ll be offering them in very tailored, specific areas where there’s a clear demand that we’re not meeting as higher education institutions in Arizona.”

Renfro pointed to a four-year degree in respiratory therapy as an example.

“It’s something the market is shifting from a two-year associate degree with certification to bachelor degrees,” she said, adding the Maricopa Community Colleges are also exploring four-year degrees in teaching, allied health and nursing, fire science and police.

This was made possible by Senate Bill 1453, signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey last week.

The Arizona Board of Regents opposed SB1453.

ABOR Chairman Larry Penley in a letter to the governor wrote he was not convinced the bill would raise college attainment in Arizona, nor that it was a good solution for enrollment declines at community colleges.

“What Arizona needs from community colleges, in addition to their technical certificates and degrees, are associate degrees that have a higher graduation rate,” Penley wrote.

Under the new law, community colleges must go through a detailed process, which includes doing a financial analysis and becoming nationally accredited, before they can offer four-year degrees.

Community colleges in Maricopa and Pima counties must also prove they are not duplicating existing degree programs at Arizona State University or the University of Arizona.

“So we don’t see this as an effort that will take away from the universities and their enrollment, we think it’ll add more opportunities and more students into the pipeline,” Renfro said.

Maricopa Community Colleges plan to begin offering four-year degrees as early as fall 2023.

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