Maricopa County Community College District gears up to offer 4-year degrees

Arizona’s largest community college system, acting under a new state law, has released a slate of planned four-year degrees in education, health care, information technology and other fields.

The Maricopa County Community College District announced Wednesday that the planned degrees would be offered "as soon as fall of 2023," pending approval by the district’s board and the Higher Learning Commission, a regional accrediting agency.

Gov. Doug Ducey in May signed a bill approved by the Legislature to allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees. Before the new law, community colleges have been able to only offer degrees under programs running no more than two years, along with vocational certifications.

The community college district’s planned offerings, spread out over eight of the district’s 10 colleges, include bachelor degrees in programming and data analytics, information technology, public safety administration, behavioral health science, nuclear medicine technology and imaging, early childhood education and dual certification in elementary and special education.

The district said teams identified programs that meet the new law’s intention to expand the state’s higher education opportunities.

"These programs will support many students that MCCCD serves, who would not typically transfer to a university after earning a two-year degree," the district said in a statement. "Now, students in these programs will have the convenience and affordability to continue after their associate’s degree with one of MCCCD’s colleges."

The next step in the process will be creasing courses and requirements for each degree over the next year, said the district, which currently serves about 100,000 students.

The district "looks forward to continuing to offer additional baccalaureate degrees in high-demand industry sectors in the years to come, such as nursing and respiratory care ...," the district’s statement said.

Supporters of proposals for allowing community colleges to offer four-year degrees pointed to higher tuition costs to get four-year degrees at Arizona’s three public universities and the possibility of providing higher education closer to students’ homes.

Critics cited the potential for duplication with the universities, which have an array of satellite campuses apart from their main campuses, They said community college students can transfer to a university to get four-year degrees.

Ducey, in signing the legislation, said it would help train the state’s current and future workforces and provide new options for students, including those in populations historically underrepresented in higher education.

"Arizona is a school choice state, and today’s action is school choice for higher education," Ducey said in a statement.

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