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insurance company pitched in $1.2 million to renovate a clinic
and classroom facility. Unlike most hygiene administrators,
Rio health programs director Liz Kaz doesn’t need to scrounge
up used equipment.
On a recent morning, a dozen student hygienists dressed in
white lab coats were leaning over patients in a state-of-the-art
clinic. The students checked patients’ blood
pressures and performed intra-oral exams as
purple-clad instructors (hygienists who teach
part-time) looked on.
Down the hall, more students clustered
around dental slides, studying them in
preparation for their board exam.
Eryn Ramsey, 24, of Yuma, explained
that she and her classmates were “stressing”
about passing the exam, but pleased that the
accelerated programwould get them into
the jobmarket in record speed. Ramsey said
she came to Rio at the recommendation of a
dentist in Flagstaff, where she used to work
as a dental assistant: “He thought very highly
of it. The dental hygienists coming fromRio
knowmore about what the dentists want.”
Dental hygiene typifies Rio Salado’s
programs in that it is tailored tomeet the needs of area
employers. At any given time, Rio courses are being offered
at some 50 to 75 government and corporate partners in the
greater Phoenix area. Such partnerships account for 51 percent
of the college’s total students, but a greater number—64
percent—of the FTSE.
Rather than packaging courses and offering them to
employers, the college’s curriculum specialists assign college
credit to existing training programs. “We can’t do this for
everyone, because it has tomeet standards,” said Van Dyke.
The Law Enforcement Technology program is a good
example. Rio officials analyzed the Phoenix police academy’s
16-week, 585-hour program and identified 17 separate
courses—ranging from a one-unit search and seizure course to
a four-unit seminar on criminal investigation—for a total of 35
credit hours. Upon completion, that work earns police recruits
a certificate fromRio Salado.
Though only one out of 100 police departments in the
country requires a bachelor’s degree, college credentials often
figure in promotion decisions, a message that was delivered
home to 41 new recruits one Monday afternoon this spring at
the police academy.
Wearing crisp white shirts, black pants and buzz cuts (or,
in two cases, buns), the recruits sat staring at a white board
that removed any doubt about how to behave. “SITDOWN.
In addition to being their first day as recruits, this was to
be, for some, their first day of college. Others already had some
college experience.
Retired police officer JimHornburg, coordinator of Rio
Salado’s public safety programs, guided the recruits in filling
out enrollment forms—and exhorted them to think about
their futures. “Academic credentials translate to credibility,” he
said. “Patrol is a lot of fun, but you’re going to want to go on to
other things, into specialty details. An academic degree in law
enforcement looks good in your portfolio.
“This is a service being offered to you by your agencies and
Rio Salado College,” Hornburg added. “Take advantage of it.”
The police academy pays the recruits’ tuition. Rio, in
turn, pays the police academy for use of their facilities and
instructors—resulting in a paper exchange. After that, the
college collects another $1,625 per FTSE from the state.
The program is important because most criminal justice
programs include coursework that is redundant to the police
academy curriculum, and few are tailored to the schedule of
working officers, said KellyMichelson, director of Rio Salado’s
law enforcement program.
With an additional 29 units at Rio Salado, graduates of
the law enforcement training certificate program can earn an
associate’s degree. And through a partnership with Ottawa
University, officers can take another 52 units online and earn a
bachelor’s degree.
More than 8,000 students have gone through the law
enforcement program, and a new agreement with the state of
Texas could enroll as many as 5,000 police academy graduates
a year for credit by examination. Another eight states have
asked Rio Salado to evaluate their police academies as well.
Arrangements like these—along with a low ratio of full-
time faculty—help Rio Salado keep its cost per student about
one-third lower than its sister colleges in the Maricopa district:
Rio spends about $3,209 per student, compared to a district
average of $4,733.
The workplace partnerships also fulfill a long-term goal
ofThor’s to adapt education tomeet the needs of working
adults and the expectations of employers. That interest dates
back toThor’s days in the ’70s and ’80s as an administrator in
the Los Angeles Community College District, where business
leaders told her they neededmore hands-on training at the
workplace—not two-year training programs at the college
In pursuing that mission, Rio Salado flips educational
models on their head.
With an annual
online enrollment
of roughly 10,000
students and
growing, Rio Salado
is a national leader
in online instruction,
particularly among
community colleges.
Graduates of the 16-week Phoenix Police Academy training program can also earn
35 credits from Rio Salado College.