A New Vision for Central Arizona College

An Interview with Dr. Jacquelyn Elliott

A+New+Vision+for+Central+Arizona+College

Dominic Savana, Cactus Editor

Last fall, Central Arizona College said its farewells to Dr. Doris Helmich, the eighth president of CAC, and navigated a significant fog of turmoil in an effort to find a worthy successor. The student body owes a debt of gratitude to Dr. James Moore for stepping in as interim president, assuring the college would not lack for leadership as the presidential search took place. The search itself was a rather opaque process. Only by the end of the spring 2016 semester did students learn of a sole finalist: Dr. Jacquelyn Elliott. The Cactus recently sat down with Dr. Elliott to get her thoughts on topics from enrollment and retention to the future of STEM.

Dr. Elliott comes to Central Arizona College by way of North Arkansas College (Northark) where she served as the president of the college for five years. Students, faculty, and staff who attended the forums[briefly describe what these were] last semester likely remember Dr. Elliott’s strong professionalism. In her first two months at CAC, President Elliott has committed herself to understanding the new communities she serves before she builds a vision for the college’s future. It’s smart, conservative leadership. At the beginning of a new administration, everyone wants five minutes time with the president; meetings with the Chamber of Commerce, the local mayors, business leaders, economic developers, and the superintendent of Pinal County Schools are essential to achieving the college’s primary goals: providing students with work opportunities and degrees that are viable in Pinal County’s workforce.

Workforce needs are an all important factor in creating programs for a successful community college. Business partnerships strengthen the opportunities CAC students will have in the future.

The makeup of Central Arizona College will likely change under President Elliott. Mid-interview, she shared some potential areas for reform. The incomprehensible academic dean structure is in sore need of review, as is Central Arizona College’s focus concerning students. Dr. Elliott expressed a deep concern for our fall to fall retention, which currently rests somewhere around fifty percent. Enrollment is certainly the sexier topic, but a college worth its accreditation should put more focus on retaining students. According to Dr. Elliott, a major barrier for students in their pursuit of a degree is the dreaded College Algebra.

“You don’t need Algebra for every college degree,” she began, “…but we’ve required that. I say we speaking of Higher Ed.”

In addition to college algebra, other barriers mentioned were financial situation and family. Improving the retention and graduation numbers are at the top of President Elliott’s agenda.

Another long-term goal of Dr. Elliott’s is to increase bachelor’s degree offerings through CAC’s partnerships with state universities, which seems to be a rather arduous process. Articulation agreements for these programs are sometimes difficult to solidify, especially if a university is struggling financially, she shared. Regardless, incoming students are likely to see an uptick in bachelor’s opportunities that are geared towards decent paying careers here in Pinal County.

In the near future, one and two credit classes could be restructured as community education classes. These classes would become more affordable and would not be taken for credit. It sounds like a great idea. Paying tuition for low-credit classes is superfluous. The credits don’t transfer, and there are not enough of these classes that contribute to earning an associates degree. CAC would also have more freedom when hiring instructors. That’s not to say these classes do not have value. They are not disappearing and will likely become more accessible under a community education umbrella. With all the facts in place, it’s a wonder how these classes ever popped up in the first place? It has a lot to do with the way state funding worked in the past decade, Dr. Elliott explained. Now, state funding accounts for about five percent of CAC’s funding. Reform here could save the college money, time, and resources.

The biggest aspect of Dr. Elliott’s vision for CAC is a desire to create specializations at each campus. It’s exciting to think that CAC might be the place to go if you’re a student pursuing a specialized degree in agriculture or a certain area in STEM. STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and math) are the fields that have seen the most growth during the Obama Administration, but Dr. Elliott believes in about six years, academia may be influenced by the next big trend, an exciting and unnerving thought. The next administration in Washington will push a new agenda. A college president must be attuned to the seismic shifts that initiate change in academia.

Dr. Elliott has an extraordinary vision for Central Arizona College and the expertise to revolutionize the way Pinal County thinks about higher education. Dr. Elliott mentioned that she will put every effort in the future to make herself accessible to the student community, especially students with input about the future of the college. Central Arizona College in this new chapter may be entering an era that will redefine what the gold standard for junior colleges can be.

As a closing note, the Cactus asked President Elliott if she could recommend a book for the student body to read, what would that book be?

“For students, I’m going to be a bit selfish and say my favorite novel: The Great Gatsby. The Great Gatsby is a timeless novel about human behavior and human predicaments.”