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76
Update
Rio Salado Is Going Strong
July 2008
R
io Salado, the community college described in the spring
2001 issue of
National CrossTalk
, has continued to grow in size
and scope, and remains largely online.
Offering everything from ESL classes for newly arrived
immigrants to post-baccalaureate degrees in teacher education, Rio
Salado has become the largest of the ten colleges in the Maricopa
Community College District, which includes Phoenix and the
surrounding area.
In 2006-07, enrollment in credit classes was 48,761—an 85
percent increase since 2001. Online enrollment had jumped from
10,000 to more than 28,000. Total credit and non-credit headcount
exceeded 61,000, or about 25 percent of the district total.
“While other colleges in the district have lost enrollment, Rio
Salado has been gaining,” said Alfredo de los Santos Jr., professor of
education at Arizona State University and former vice chancellor of
the Maricopa district. “Their
institutional gains in the uses
of technology have been
remarkable,” he added. “The
quality of service they provide
has continued to improve.”
“We continue to be cost
effective,” said Linda Thor,
Rio Salado’s president since
1990. In 2006-07, cost per
full-time equivalent student
was $5,550—36 percent
less than other Maricopa
district colleges. “We are a big
financial contributor to the
district,” Thor said.
Staff size grew from 300 in 2001 to almost 500 in 2008; to
accommodate them, a second building was added at Rio Salado’s
Tempe headquarters.
In 2001, new classes began every two weeks. Now they start every
week, to provide flexibility for
students, many of whom work
full-time or part-time and also
have family responsibilities.
“Many of my students
(at Arizona State) have taken
online courses from Rio,” said
de los Santos. “They spend a
week or two on one course, and
then they’re finished with it. It
fits better into their schedules.”
Not all Rio Salado
coursework is online. The
college has partnership
agreements with more than 40
corporations and government
agencies in the Phoenix area, and these classes generally are taught at
the places of employment.
The post-baccalaureate program in teacher education is
a hybrid—basic coursework is online, but students also must
do traditional classroom teaching. Arizona’s public four-year
universities have fought successfully to keep community colleges
from offering four-year degrees, but state law has created an
exception for teacher education. Rio Salado has graduated “800
verified teachers in the last seven years,” said Janet Johnson, chair of
education.
College officials said more such hybrid programs probably would
be offered in the future.
“My impression is that Rio Salado is a really fine institution that
is managed well,” said David A. Longanecker, executive director of
the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. “The only
question is, Will this survive after Linda Thor leaves?”
Perhaps the clearest sign of Rio Salado’s success came in January
2008, when a for-profit group sought to buy the college for $400
million.
“After a wild 48 hours,” Linda Thor said, “the chancellor (Rufus
Glasper, chancellor of the Maricopa Community College District)
said no, Rio Salado was not for sale.”
—William Trombley
Rio Salado has
become the largest
of the ten colleges
in the Maricopa
Community College
District, which
includes Phoenix and
the surrounding area.
Perhaps the clearest
sign of Rio Salado’s
success came in
January 2008, when
a for-profit group
sought to buy the
college for $400
million.
a small group, the whole organization is a lot more agile.”
Faculty who choose to work at Rio seem to like the system.
“We try tomove forward as an entire faculty and an entire
college,” said Vernon Smith, faculty president and chair of
foreign languages. “At other institutions of higher education…I
hear problems like, ‘My dean won’t let me do that.’ It’s not even
in our mindset. It sounds so foreign.”
In keeping with TQMphilosophy, Rio Salado provides
many services for part-timers that other colleges do not:
Couriers deliver paperwork directly to instructors’ homes, for
example. “You have to view the adjunct faculty as a customer,
not as a pain,” noted LindaThor.
That has been sociology adjunct Dave Horsman’s
experience. “Anything I bring up as a suggestion for
improvement, generally it’s seized upon and acted upon and
in place not too far in the future,” he said. It was his idea, for
example, to set up a special team to help ensure that students
can track down instructors when they have to—a regular need
at a distance learning institution.
Despite all these efforts, the lopsided ratio of full-time
to part-time faculty has been a great source of controversy
since Rio Salado’s inception. Al Shipley, a math professor in
the district since Rio’s founding and current chair of Glendale
Community College’s math department, is among the skeptics.
“There are good part-time teachers, and there are bad full-
time teachers, but the probability of getting mostly full-time
teachers with higher standards is greater,” said Shipley.
Inmath, for example, Shipley’s department employs 32
full-time instructors—50 percent more than Rio employs
college-wide—even though Glendale is only slightly larger
than Rio.
Leaders of the district’s part-time faculty association also
have their complaints.
“The leadership of Rio Salado was non-cooperative in any