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Community Colleges Under Pressure To Steer Students Toward Four-year Schools


Officials at Maricopa Community Colleges are searching for ways to keep their students in class.

Three-quarters of the college’s first-time, full-time students do not earn two-year degrees or certificates or transfer to universities within three years, according to The Arizona Republic.

Maricopa students also leave community college early without a degree at higher rates than the nation, with less than one in four returning the following school year.

“It’s a big problem,” Arizona State University President Michael Crow said of the Maricopa transfer rate.

College and university officials have launched several programs aimed at encouraging more students to stay and strive to earn four-year degrees. The latest, beginning this month, allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree in general studies from Indiana University while in Arizona.

Across the nation, community colleges are under pressure to keep more students in school and move them into four-year programs. If they don’t move on, they’ll clog a system that researchers predict will be flush with new students as young Americans enter college in record numbers.

“If all you are going to do is take them in, and you haven’t transferred them, then it’s like a closed door,” says Amaury Nora, a professor at the University of Houston’s College of Education, who studies community colleges.

In the past year, some lawmakers have accused Maricopa Community Colleges of diluting its mission by expanding its international programs, which included overseas travel by administrators and faculty.

Maricopa has agreed to help train thousands of medical professionals in China online and has a partnership with a college in the Netherlands. It also participates in study-abroad programs.

State Sen. Linda Gray, R-Phoenix, who serves on the Senate Higher Education Committee, says MCC should educate more medical professionals here, rather than training ones overseas.

“Arizona should be their primary mission,” she says.

MCC Chancellor Rufus Glasper says the China program is projected to bring in $200 million over five years, which could help improve the colleges. Study-abroad programs and student exchange also are vital to creating a global work force, he adds.

But Glasper agreed the college system isn’t doing enough to keep students in school.

Students sometimes leave for financial reasons or family commitments, he says. MCC also tends to serve more transient students, which may increase the rates for early departure.

In the past two years, MCC and the state universities have increased the number of community college credits they transfer. For example, through an alliance with ASU, nursing students can transfer 75 credits, up from 64.

More four-year degrees also are being offered through college-university partnerships. Students can earn a bachelor’s degree in elementary education through Northern Arizona University at almost every Maricopa campus.

“We’re trying to break down those boundaries” between colleges and universities, Glasper says.

— Associated Press

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