Maricopa is on track to have a campus of Central Arizona College (CAC) in the City within the next few years – or sooner. The bond issue that voters approved in 2008 gave the mandate that will result in a campus to better meet the needs of Maricopa students looking to enhance their education.
At a recent meeting, CAC President Dennis Jenkins gave indications that there is progress toward the planning and building of a Maricopa campus. With CAC’s current Maricopa enrollment increasing by 42% this semester, it is clear that more space is needed. Countywide, enrollment is up an average of 22%. Jenkins is “excited about expansion” and “pleased with the support of the voters.”
He stated that they are in the process of evaluating three 200-acre Maricopa sites with a decision expected “by June, 2010.” If anything, Jenkins said that they had intended to purchase land in November, 2009, but the economy and landowner pricing slowed the process. The three sites were narrowed down from 20.
Major considerations for site selection include the availability of water, sewer, and power. Access for traffic is another consideration. If a site has those capabilities or the infrastructure is close by, the site is more likely to be selected.
Architect to be chosen
Jenkins is expecting a “recommendation in the next few weeks” on an architect to be chosen for planning and developing the Maricopa campus of CAC. A screening committee has had presentations from the candidates and will be providing their choice to Jenkins.
With the assistance of an architect, Jenkins sees the first phase of a Maricopa campus being built in two years. The architect will be given the task of designing the new campus for the long haul – a 20-year time frame to accommodate Maricopa as it grows. That is why 200 acres is being purchased soon, so there is room for future growth.
Should there be portables?
In an effort to meet the mushrooming needs of Maricopa’s students, Jenkins is considering whether portable classrooms could help meet the need until a permanent campus can be built.
Currently, CAC has two offices in a Maricopa strip mall with four classrooms, which are very much in demand for classes.
Community Outreach Coordinator Verl Long commented, “The classrooms are thoroughly booked in every time slot on Monday through Thursday evenings and most times during the day.”
Jenkins does not want Maricopa citizens to construe that portables could become the permanent campus, but he is considering portables as an interim measure. This possible use of portables would also be contingent on the availability of utilities on the site.
Can and should CAC expand to a four-year program?
With demand burgeoning, Jenkins has ongoing discussions with Arizona’s four-year colleges about offering more classes in Pinal County. Questioned about the possibility that CAC could become a four-year school, Jenkins cites the current legislative statutes that prevent that.
Both Representatives Barbara McGuire and Frank Pratt support expanding courses for two-year schools to four-year curriculum. McGuire endorses expanding community colleges in all curriculum areas.
Pratt has “opened a folder” to have legislative counsel research the issue with the possibility of designing a bill to enable community colleges to expand offerings to a four-year, degree-granting program. Pratt’s plan might only include some curriculum areas and would be optional for a community college.
The Arizona Board of Regents would also need to endorse community colleges’ expansion to a four-year curriculum, but that has not been formally discussed.
If CAC were to expand in just some fields, the likely curriculum areas would be in computers, health careers, and general education requirements for a degree, according to Jenkins.
Unusual for community colleges, CAC is one of only three Arizona community colleges that have a campus residence hall (at the Signal Peak campus) to give rural students a better opportunity to attend college. Maricopa is not a potential site for a residence facility, however.
The state of education
With the job market still down, Jenkins commented on the “double whammy” that has created the increased school enrollment. When employees lose a job, they often consider upgrading skills by taking a college course. This, plus the general population expansion, has contributed to Maricopa’s growth at CAC.
Students enrolling must take placement tests. Sadly, 50% do not pass one or more of the three tests in English, reading, and math required to function at college level skills. This creates a demand for remedial courses to boost students’ skills so they can successfully work at a college level.
For the future
Maricopa will be seeing more of President Jenkins as he comes to town to learn more about the City’s educational needs. In the next few months, announcements will be made about site location and the architect chosen to develop the CAC vision in Maricopa. In about a year, a master plan will be developed; in two years, a campus will be built.
As a result of this expansion, education will be more readily available for Maricopa’s college students.