Maricopa Community Colleges Lead in Concurrent Enrollment and Healthcare Education Programs

The college district aims to offer students a variety of program options and hands-on training using the latest technologies in growing industries such as health care.

This article is an excerpt from ACCT’s new report Partnerships for a Future-Ready Workforce, which details how community colleges and businesses can form strong partnerships, national trends in employer needs and postsecondary attainment, and policies and practices that form a continuum of education and career training.

The Maricopa Community College District contains 10 independently accredited colleges located in and around Phoenix, AZ. The county has over four million people, and each of its community colleges have diverse program offerings. The district offers students a variety of education-to career-pathways, such as dual enrollment and apprenticeships, and has robust partnerships with businesses in several industries, including the insurance, automotive, manufacturing, and cyber security industries. This profile focuses on one of the district’s main partners, the local health care system.

To learn more about their efforts, we interviewed Dana Saar, a trustee from the Maricopa Community College District; Daniel Barajas, ‎the Dean of Career and Technical Education and Interim Associate Vice Chancellor of Maricopa Community Colleges; Rochelle Rivas, the District Director for Healthcare Education; and Margi Schultz, Administrator for the Maricopa Nursing Consortium and Director for Nursing at GateWay Community College.

Healthcare Concurrent Enrollment Programs

The Maricopa Community College District has robust healthcare training programs tailored for a variety of professions, from entry-level allied health professions to multiple levels of nursing. These programs have established partnerships with nearly 50 facilities where students can complete their clinical experiences. The central health education department plays a key role in maintaining these programs and acts as a neutral liaison between the colleges and the healthcare facilities.

A unique feature of Maricopa’s healthcare programs is the multiple pathways the colleges offered to students seeking a degree. For example, the Maricopa Nursing Registered Nursing (RN) Program admits students seeking a traditional associate degree pathway, as well as students seeking concurrent enrollment opportunities with one of its six university partners. The concurrent enrollment programs typically see about 1,000 applicants each cycle, and about three-fourths of students in the RN program are involved in concurrent enrollment to some degree.

One challenge that has come from the popularity of the concurrent enrollment option is that there are more applicants than seats available. While nursing programs often have a long waitlist, students can use their wait times to take corequisite courses at their community colleges. Students also receive support from designated nursing advisors who make sure they take the right courses in the right sequences. Nursing students are encouraged to earn stackable credentials as they move through the nursing programs and often find jobs as Certified Nursing Assistants (CAN) or Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) at facilities where they have clinical experiences.

Staying Current with Workforce Needs

Maricopa’s health education programs use several strategies to ensure curriculum keeps pace with workforce needs. Many of the programs’ faculty are current practitioners. Students also have simulation experiences in labs that mimic actual healthcare facilities as closely as possible. According to directors Ms. Rivas and Ms. Schultz, hands-on training is important for students, yet they need to be competent in their field before working with actual patients. To create a robust simulation, labs are equipped with the latest technologies, such as high-fidelity mannequins to simulate patients. After students complete their lab requirements, they gain clinical experience at local healthcare facilities with their instructors. These clinical experiences allow students to further develop their technical skills for working with the latest health care equipment and to gain the professionalism and soft skills needed for working with patients.

Tailored Services for a Diverse Student Body and Community

Within the health care education program, Maricopa offers programs to meet the specific needs of its diverse student body and communities. For example, to support student veterans, GateWay Community College offers a 12-credit LPN bridge course designed for veterans with previous healthcare training, in roles such as a medical technician or corpsman. Three colleges in the district—South Mountain, Phoenix, and GateWay—also offer the Bilingual Nursing Fellowship Program, with the goal to increase the number of nurses who are fluent in both English and Spanish. Mesa and Paradise Valley Community Colleges offer a Paramedic to RN program and several colleges offer the Nurse Assistant program. The Nurse Refresher program, created to assist the RN who has been out of the workforce for five or more years, is offered at Mesa and GateWay Community Colleges. Three skill centers offer a variety of entry-level workforce programs that start students on a career pathway and prepare them to transfer to a college site. Continuing education programs are offered and can be created to meet a specific education or training need of a community partner; low-cost workshops and seminars designed to enhance a students’ skill levels are offered throughout the year.

Allison Beer is the Senior Policy Analyst for ACCT. She can be reached at Jacob Bray is the Associate Writer for ACCT and he can be reached at

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