Maricopa Community Colleges lead the charge of workforce development in Arizona

The Maricopa County Community College District touts itself as a workforce development powerhouse, and a recent employment report offers insight into the district’s impact.

Arizona added 75,000 non-farm jobs in the past year for a 2.6 percent increase, and 73,100 of those were in the private sector, according to the report from the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO).

All eleven major sectors in the state have added jobs since last year. The education and health services sector gained the most with 19,700 jobs, and construction was second with 19,000 jobs.

“This success is possible thanks to the hard work of our employees, job creators and entrepreneurs,” said Gov. Doug Ducey. “Arizona will continue to prioritize keeping taxes low, reducing red tape and developing our skilled workforce.”

In a press release, the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) credited its colleges for their part in Arizona’s continuous workforce growth.

“The success of our students is reflected in the health and economic vitality of our community,” said Dr. Maria Harper-Marinick, MCCCD chancellor. “We are proud of the progress we have made in the past year to deliver on our promise of high quality, affordable education for almost 200,000 students throughout our system.”

The Maricopa Community Colleges train and provide certification for 95 percent of the state’s most in-demand jobs, and almost 90 percent of students stay in Maricopa County after graduation, according to the MCCCD.

“We have been listening to employers about what they need from our graduates and create programs to address those needs and are also putting career exploration at the front end of a student’s educational journey,” said Matt Hasson, communications director for the MCCCD.

The MCCCD established the Maricopa Corporate College (MCOR) in 2013 to deliver “high-impact training and development solutions for business, industry associations and government,” according to the MCOR website. Businesses work with MCOR to create training workshops, boot camps, employee development and recruiting initiatives and more.

“Our Corporate College is a great example of how we have been not only growing the pipeline of students to fill critical jobs but upskilling existing workers through customized training programs,” Hasson said.

In the same vein, Glendale Community College launched a new program this month to provide a pathway for employees of local businesses to obtain fully-funded college degrees.

“Glendale Community College is proud of our contributions to the overall success of the economy and the community in which we serve,” said GCC president Dr. Teresa Leyba Ruiz. “We continually challenge ourselves to create a dynamic learning environment, and our success can be measured by our economic impact on Maricopa County, the greater Phoenix metropolitan area and West Valley cities such as Glendale, Peoria and Surprise.”

In one example from the GCC program, employees at Discover can earn an Organizational Leadership certificate and an Organizational Management associate degree at GCC while remaining employed. Discover Financial Services funds 100 percent of the tuition costs and arranges for professors to hold classes on-site during the work day, according to the MCCCD.

The MCCCD asserts that such programs expand access to higher education and provide more workforce opportunities for students.

“There is no way I could go back to school without this program,” said Bryanna Gelner, a 10-year Discover employee participating in the program at GCC, in a press release.

“I have a young son and live far away, so juggling work, caring for my child and the drive time to GCC would be impossible,” she said. “Through this program, I can take classes and study during work hours, plus there is tutoring available right after work from my peers and co-workers, which helps me branch out and connect with people in other departments.”

Ruiz said GCC alumni generated $1.1 billion in added income for Maricopa County in fiscal year 2016-2017, the equivalent of supporting 13,649 jobs, according to a study using data from that period. The same study showed 96 percent of GCC graduates remain in Maricopa County after completing college.

“I feel that one of the best ways to understand the needs and trends of the business community is by rolling up our sleeves and getting involved,” Ruiz said. “GCC is fortunate to have a world-class faculty that constantly watches industry trends, which helps them develop innovative curriculum designed to challenge students and anticipate the needs of employers.”

Last fall, Mesa Community College launched the MCCCD IT Institute program at the Mesa Downtown Center, part of MCC’s Business and Information Systems Department.

Dr. Linda Collins, department chair, said the concept for the program started with the Everyone Can Code program at MCC, a mini-certification course through Apple that teaches students to develop mobile apps for the Apple App Store.

The IT Institute offers courses in blockchain technology, app development, data analytics and project management, among other things, and is intended as a response to industry needs.

“It’s going to be innovative, active and inspirational to everyone,” Collins said in August, before the program began. “That’s also because we ask questions. We don’t assume that a corporation is going to want something. We have them come in and work with us.”

Information technology is just one example of workforce development efforts among the Maricopa Community Colleges. Scientific research is another.

In October 2018, Phoenix College announced it had received a nearly $1.5 million grant to support integrating research, mentoring and industry collaborations to improve STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) recruitment and retention among minority students at the college.

The grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) came as a result of faculty-driven collaboration between all 10 MCCCD campuses, according to Robin Cotter, professor of biosciences at Phoenix College and one of the primary project team members who authored the NSF grant proposal.

“We decided that since we couldn’t give our students independent research opportunities, we were going to embed it into our curriculum,” Cotter said in October. “And nationwide, they’re telling us that embedding practical applications of knowledge is the best way to teach students and prepare them.”

Earlier this year, Chamber Business News reported a new program from MCCCD called College Ready, which allows General Education Development (GED) students who receive a score of 165 or higher in a GED test subject area to bypass a placement test or remedial coursework.

The College Ready program was created to remove barriers for students who score high and plan to pursue postsecondary education, according to MCCCD.

“Students just save time and money because they are able to immediately enroll in college credit courses that put them on their certificate or degree pathway,” said Barbara Khalsa, Rio Salado College interim dean of instruction and community development.

MCCCD is the state’s largest workforce development provider, with 200,000 students spread across 10 colleges throughout Arizona.

Graham Bosch

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