New Bachelor's Degree Programs Exceed Enrollment Expectations with Students Eager to Pursue Careers in Information Technology and Public Safety

Wednesday, August 2, 2023
PC history professor Ty Welborn was also the curriculum developer for the bachelor's degree programs
Jocelyn Gurrola is purusing a bachelor's degree in Public Safety Administration
Phoenix College is a welcoming environment for new and returning students
Phoenix College's Information Technology Institute in downtown Phoenix
Erin Crowley was an administrative assistant and is now pursuing a degree in IT
Dominic Chacon already works in IT at a local hospital and will receive his associate degree in IT in the spring, but wants to earn a bachelor's degree to have a broad understanding of the IT industry
Phoenix College is a welcoming environment for new and returning students
David Gonzalez is a Tech Support Technician at South Mountain Community College, but pursing a bachelor's degree in IT to move up to a higher position or be considered for positions at Intel, Google, or Apple.
Karen Yifru already has two bachelor's degrees and a Master's degree, but she loves learning and has returned to school for her bachelor's in IT so she better understands what developers do in her work at a major insurance company

The historic passage of state legislation SB1453 in May of 2021, allowing community colleges to offer four-year bachelor's degree programs, has caught the attention of many, particularly the students flocking to sign up. The response to not one but two new bachelor's degree programs at Phoenix College (PC)–Information Technology (IT) and Public Safety Administration (PSA)–has exceeded expectations. The PSA degree has 62 students enrolled, with 338 expected to register for classes. The IT bachelor's degree program currently has 206 students enrolled for Fall 2023, with 545 preparing to enter the program. 

PC history professor and member of the Bachelor's Leadership Team, Ty Welborn said, "When we developed the bachelor's degrees one of our goals was to try to use them as a tool to increase equity and access for underserved students in our community, especially those that might not otherwise have had the opportunity to pursue a bachelor's degree. So far, the data are encouraging. Currently, 63% of bachelor's degree-seeking students in the district are female, 60% are first-generation students, and 67% are minority students, including 43% Hispanic students."

Public Safety Administration degree engages students eager to serve

Jocelyn Gurrola enrolled in the PSA program because "once I got out of the military, I was looking for somewhere else I could be of service," she said and found an entry-level part-time job with the City of Buckeye. With a PSA bachelor's degree, she's eager to advance her position in the city and positively impact people. Overwhelmed by her university experience at 18 years old, with large class sizes and a lack of support from professors, Jocelyn's community college experience has been much more positive. "I love the small campus and have all the tools to succeed. There's so much help available at very convenient hours," she said, having talked to several counselors as she prepared to enroll. 

As a veteran of the Marines, Jocelyn is eligible for Chapter 33 military benefits, so she's also been in communication with PC's Veteran Services staff, Michael Wainscott and Felicia Kinard. "They responded quickly and sent me the documents I needed to fill out to transfer my credits and ensure I wouldn't have to pay out of pocket." Living in Buckeye, Jocelyn will attend in-person classes once a week and online for the rest. "I like going in person even though it's a bit of a commute. I like to collaborate with my peers and talk with my professors. I'm just really excited to start the semester. I value education and love learning. There's always something to learn." 

When considering what degrees to offer, Phoenix College faculty, administration, curriculum developers, and community partners examined the current employment market in Phoenix. They noticed a growing demand for qualified public safety professionals to fill management and leadership roles in city, county, and state departments. When it was time to build the Public Safety Administration (PSA) program, faculty from across the district met with more than 30 public safety professionals, including active and retired police, firefighters, and homeland security staff, to ask what skills were needed. 

Interested in social work, Kadisha Begay was also encouraged to pursue the PSA bachelor's degree. An alumna of PC's dual-enrollment program, Hoop of Learning, for American Indian high school students, Kadisha went straight to university out of high school to study psychology but didn't finish. Now she's back at PC with the dual-enrollment credits she earned to jump-start her bachelor's degree. She first thought she wanted to be a psychiatrist, but a social worker who guided her to resources for her preschool-age son sparked her interest in working with people in her community. "When I was in Hoop of Learning, I liked how we would get together after our classes and check-in. I grew up in Phoenix and like the campus layout and community. Everything at a university feels much larger, and you don't know your way around. PC feels close to home and accessible."  

An Information Technology degree provides opportunities in a growing field

The conversations around which bachelor's degrees to offer at PC began with questions: What makes PC stand out? What would help our community? What are we already doing that we can leverage to provide a return on investment for our students that will offer them good-paying jobs in fields with high growth potential? "We have a lot of good programs at PC, but considering what would be best for students, what we do well, and the requirements of the legislation, that helped us narrow things." Information Technology (IT) was the first bachelor's degree program agreed upon. Ty Welborn said that with the relatively new PC Information Technology Institute (ITI) in downtown Phoenix, "It was a no-brainer." 

Erin Crowley was an administrative assistant for fifteen years and learned a lot about IT: troubleshooting, setting up hardware, and figuring out why software doesn't work. She was recently laid off from that position and decided to pursue a bachelor's in IT. She loved her administrative role but realized IT pays much better. Living off her severance pay, she can afford to focus on school, at least for the first two semesters, then hopes to find something part-time in IT. Her dad went to PC in the 70s, and her sister works in the Learning Commons, so she wasn't looking at other schools. "I live in Phoenix, so it's the most convenient for me," she said. "I'm not ready for university and don't want to go that route anyway. Now that a bachelor's degree is available at a community college, it seems like a fateful opportunity." With a vast background in other types of business, Erin doesn't have a particular job title in mind but wants the IT background to get her in the door.  

To develop the IT program, IT professors, IT specialists, and a curriculum coach came together from around the district to collaborate on what the bachelor's degree should look like. "We didn't want to just copy the programs of our university partners, which all have particular specializations," Ty said, "so we deliberately set our IT degree apart as a much more broad and generalized degree that would provide a greater range of employment opportunities after graduation." If someone wants to move up in the IT industry, they need project management skills and a broad base of knowledge, knowing a little about a lot of things, so they can manage teams of people who specialize in those areas. Ty continued, "We have courses covering topics such as IT infrastructure, project management, cybersecurity, and database management. We don't expect our students to become specialists in each of those areas, but they need to be able to manage teams of people who do those things."

A bachelor's degree for returning students already working in the IT field

This broad understanding of IT is what Dominic Chacon was looking for in an IT program. Currently working in IT at one of the valley hospitals, he wanted his education to match his career path. "I've been here for eight and a half years, so when I saw there was going to be a bachelor's program at PC, I applied to start work on my associate degree, so when the BA program became available, I could move into it and eventually graduate with a BA." Dominic will earn his associate degree in IT in the spring. "My classes and access to help have been great," he said. "In my IT role, I see the day-to-day tasks we need to do. The class projects are well-planned and relate to the real world, so that's been great to see in the curriculum." He is looking to grow into management at his current company, which he said is a great place to work. He noted the IT department is growing and all in-house, so he has the opportunity to work with different aspects of IT, from networking to servers to endpoints to IT security. 

"For many people, school can be intimidating," Dominic said. Now 32, he first experienced college out of high school and was pursuing a different career path, but he stopped going. He acknowledges the fear and anxiety of, Do I want to start again? It's going to take me long to get there. Yet, he's realized one of the takeaways from going back to school at PC was how easy it was to get started, to get the ball rolling. "It's never too late to start," he said. "You just have to take those first steps. Phoenix College provides a safe environment to further your education, and no one judges you. Many students are returning to pursue an education, and PC provides that welcomeness."  

The bachelor's degree in IT appeals to professionals in the tech industry who have some IT certifications or experience and are ready for the next step in their careers. David Gonzalez, a full-time Tech Support Technician at South Mountain Community College (SMCC), is pursuing his bachelor's degree in IT at Phoenix College. A former camp counselor in Prescott, David started the IT associate degree and wanted more hands-on experience, so he accepted a work-study position in the IT department. When David graduated with an associate degree in 2018, he took a part-time IT position and eventually a full-time position. He also started a bachelor's degree program at NAU, but then the pandemic hit, and he stopped attending for financial reasons. In PC's bachelor's degree program, David is registered for two classes for the fall and hopes to increase to three or four courses in the spring. "What I hope to gain with the bachelor's degree is a higher position," David said, "at SMCC or the district, Intel or Google. I'd also love to work with Apple."   

Because PC is the only college offering the IT bachelor's degree within the district, the ITI's location in downtown Phoenix makes it accessible by light rail for students around the valley to attend in person. However, the program is also suited to online and hybrid learning. The 120-credit hour degree is 90 credits of lower division courses, so students with IT certificates or associate degrees from other colleges can transfer those credits and continue with the bachelor's degree to finish their 30 credit hours of upper-division courses, which Ty said are priced at a higher rate, but "only 150% of our base tuition rate, which still makes it far, far cheaper than any university." There is also a testing and evaluation process for students with industry experience or other IT certificates to receive credit for what they already know.

Education is all about the learning

For Karen Yifru, going to school is about learning. "I feel like at Phoenix College, I will learn," she said. With two bachelor's degrees–one in Math, another in Accounting–and a Master's degree in Data Analysis, Karen went to college right out of high school but dropped out and went back, finishing her BA in Math when she was 25. With two kids, she became an actuary. When her youngest daughter graduated from law school, and her kids’ education bills ceased, Karen wanted to do something for herself. That's when she returned for an accounting degree. She realized a career in accounting wasn't for her, so Karen pursued IT and fell in love with it. "I learned a lot, but not enough," she said.  

Now 62, Karen likes going to school. "I work in IT for a major insurance company. I work with developers and Quality Assurance, and I can read code, but I want to code myself. That's why I decided to do the bachelor's degree program. I don't intend to change my career. The degree gives me an understanding of what the developers are doing" to be a liaison between IT and the business. "When the business has a requirement, I convert it into an IT requirement, then work with the developers." The affordability is what drew her to PC more than anything else. "I was going to get my associate degree, and then they came out with the bachelor's, so I thought, Why not? There are so many opportunities out there right now," she noted, "especially for young people. Phoenix is becoming a hub for IT."   

Considering the positive response to these bachelor's programs, one might wonder when to expect additional bachelor's degree programs at PC. "We do have plans to expand bachelor's offerings over time," Ty said, "but we are in no rush. We want to do everything possible to ensure these two programs are sustainable long-term before offering a third bachelor's award. And when we do, we want to have those faculty, administration, and community conversations: What do you need in the community? What would help students? What do we do well that we can leverage? We all agree that we're in no hurry and two or three years away from starting the conversation. We're eager to get a cohort through these two programs and see what that looks like."  

Are you looking to develop a new skill, career, or outlook for yourself and your family? Pursue a bachelor's degree at Phoenix College in Information Technology (IT) or Public Safety Administration (PSA) this Fall 2023! Your future is waiting.