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Original Article:
Daring to be Different (spring 2001)


Rio Salado Is Going Strong
July 2008

RIO 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

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