Rey Rivera with Roary the Estrella Mountain Lion

EMCC President Dr. Rey Rivera with Roary the Estrella Mountain Lion.

After the May 4 passing of Senate Bill 1453, Estrella Mountain Community College will develop baccalaureate degrees in high-demand fields like health care, IT, education, and police and fire services.

EMCC President Dr. Ray Rivera said SB 1453 creates another opportunity for equity gaps with students from diverse backgrounds to accomplish their career goals.

“We want to be more equitable, accessible and affordable for students,” Rivera said.

Recently, Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law SB 1453 allowing the state’s community colleges to offer students limited four-year degrees, joining 23 other states. Previously, the schools only provided associate degrees and professional certifications. 

Rivera said the passage of SB 1453 will give students another option when it comes to pursuing higher education. 

“This legislation would help reduce some of the barriers our students face,” Rivera said in a letter to Ducey. 

“SB1453 would help save students money and would provide the convenience of in-person education close to home.”

Nine of the 10 Maricopa Community Colleges are Hispanic-serving institutions with a large population, Rivera said. At EMCC, minorities make up the majority of the student population.

“Our next step is to bring together the administration and faculty across our system and determine which programs we specifically want to target,” he said.

Rivera said students should be able to begin enrolling for bachelor’s degree programs in fall 2023.

Thomas Mitchell is an EMCC student pursuing an associate degree in science-physics and is on a transfer pathway to NAU for his bachelor’s. 

He said monetary issues are big barriers that prevent students from pursuing a higher education. SB 1453 is a step in the right direction to making higher education more accessible.

“The passing of this bill means a lot to me because I try to live by helping people,” Mitchell said. “So, when I see a lot of people being helped, it just speaks to me on a different level. I think about a lot of peers and personal friends who couldn’t get to college because of monetary reasons. Now, they have the option to pursue a higher degree.”

Mitchell started at EMCC in 2015, but then took a break from school until the summer of 2019. He said he was worried that community college wouldn’t prepare him properly for his field because his degree path relies heavily on math. 

Ultimately, he trusted his gut and said a lot of his fears melted away after his experience at EMCC.

“Everyone was telling me that universities were so much more difficult than community college, but I feel that I actually have more of an advantage because I have a more personal connection with my professors and more intimate learning experience,” Mitchell said. 

“The road to college is a very personal experience, and I feel that if you want that personal experience, going to a community college is very comparable to going to a university.”

Rivera said SB 1453’s passage is a great opportunity for the communities around the community colleges. Now that the school can offer baccalaureate degrees, Rivera said EMCC can also expand on its community service to surrounding areas.

“These pathways will be building the infrastructure that we’re going to need the most to address our growth,” Rivera said. “We’re going to be able to keep the workers here in the West Valley and then strengthen our community as a result.”