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Camp Verde, Sedona host Tuesday post-secondary education discussions

Shannon Shoots, Community Relations director for the Office of the President Northern Arizona University, attended Oct. 18 forums in both Clarkdale and Cottonwood. Shoots said that workers are staying at their jobs for less than three years because they want “a better job, or they want more money.” (Photo by Bill Helm)

Shannon Shoots, Community Relations director for the Office of the President Northern Arizona University, attended Oct. 18 forums in both Clarkdale and Cottonwood. Shoots said that workers are staying at their jobs for less than three years because they want “a better job, or they want more money.” (Photo by Bill Helm)

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Linda Buchanan, board member for the Verde Valley Forum for Public Affairs, and Community Education Coordinator for Yavapai College, says that developing entrepreneurs is one way to bridge the Verde Valley’s education and business communities. (Photo by Bill Helm)

VERDE VALLEY – Last week, close to three dozen education-minded people met in Clarkdale and Cottonwood to consider the Role of Post-Secondary Education in the Future of the Verde Valley Region.

Most of the discussions focused on recommendations that came from a two-day forum sponsored by both the Verde Valley Forum for Public Affairs and Arizona Town Hall.

Tuesday, the Verde Valley Forum for Public Affairs and Arizona Town Hall will host two meetings to discuss the highlights report from the Sept. 9-10 forum, which includes a summary of recommendations for action, as well as a list of goals and action plans.

At 8 a.m., Dr. Lisa Hirsch and Carolyn Fisher will lead the first meeting at Sedona Oak Creek School District, located at 221 Brewer Road in Sedona. At noon, Steve Ayers and Karin Ward will lead a program at Wingfield Plaza, located at 564 S. Main Street in Camp Verde.

Regional issues

Though there are definite differences from one Verde Valley community to the next, Tuesday’s meeting in Camp Verde is structured to look at the role of post-secondary education as a regional issue, said Ayers, the Economic Development director for the Town of Camp Verde.

Ayers also said that post-secondary education does not just mean “college.”

“Camp Verde really doesn’t have any engagement at all,” Ayers said. “I’m hoping the conversation can begin with engaging the business community and the students themselves. What do they want to do with their lives? They need to be engaged in this conversation.”

Both Ayers and Ward, superintendent at Beaver Creek School District, explained that a lack of strong internet connection can keep many of the Verde Valley’s education-minded people from being able to take courses online.

And online educational options are even more important for students who live at least 30 minutes away from their closest college.

Community-specific issues

Sedona’s needs for post-secondary education are reflective of the community’s population, as well as its industry, said Dr. Lisa Hirsch, participant chair of the Verde Valley Forum for Public Affairs.

“Our population is 50-percent retirees, and many of our younger residents feed the tourism and hospitality industry,” Dr. Hirsch said. “We could be creating more jobs and generating more income. Sedona has the ‘destination’ label, and we need to develop our work force so that they can stay – as we are very transient. If we want to remain vibrant as a Valley, we need to grow our own work force and create programs and partnerships with businesses and educators together in diverse industries.”

Access – or lack of access

“How do we provide support?” Karin Ward asked. “It’s expensive. But online is a great option.”

On the now-defunct Verde Valley Board Advisory Committee, Carolyn Fisher’s main focus was the needs of the District 3 unincorporated areas, particularly Big Park and the Village of Oak Creek. Fisher’s main concerns, she said, are the access – or lack thereof – in the northeast quadrant of the Verde to post-secondary education.

“Although we share a Sedona address in Big Park, it is often difficult (no public transportation) and time consuming to reach the Clarkdale, Sedona or Camp Verde campuses of Yavapai College or Northern Arizona University, or any of the other existing institutions,” Fisher said. “We need to have better information, visibility and access to our educational opportunities.”

With the Town of Camp Verde preparing to open its new 17,000 square-foot two-story library on Nov. 5, anyone living on the Verde Valley’s east end will soon have a place where they could log in – and learn online.

On the Verde Valley’s northwest end, Sedona is “identical to the areas in the Verde Valley as far as young people who are graduating from high school with very limited options for working while getting an Associate’s Degree,” said Dr. Hirsch.

“While some folks think Sedona is where all the rich people live, our schools, including the charter school serve kids on free and reduced lunch. Many schools are hovering at 40 percent and go all the way to 75 percent free and reduced lunch, which puts is in the ranks of the students all over the Verde Valley.”

Creating partnerships

Representatives from both Yavapai College and Northern Arizona University either attended the Oct. 18 meetings or were briefed following the meetings.

With both colleges providing online education options, Verde Valley students have the choice to either attend a two-year or a four-year post-secondary educational program

NAU has “consistently pursued and offered multiple paths to higher education to offer students a choice in earning their degrees,” said Kimberly Ott, NAU’s assistant to the president for Executive Communication and Media Relations. “We have long been at the forefront of innovative educational opportunities and we continue to evolve and integrate the latest technologies into our offerings throughout our campuses and via online.

“We know that strong partnerships are critical in order for us to achieve these goals,” Ott said. “Our relationships here, in your community, are examples of how we can make a difference together. It is about increasing options for accessing higher education, overall educational attainment.”

Of NAU’s 26,506 undergraduates enrolled on the Fall 2016 census day, 541 had a “first-known home address with a Verde Valley zip code,” Ott said, roughly 2 percent.

Of those 541 Verde Valley undergraduates, 327 had earned “at least one credit hour of transfer credit from Yavapai College,” Ott said, roughly 60 percent.

Different programs, different missions

It’s inherent that the mission of the community college is different than the mission of four-year institutions. Though both community colleges and universities compete for students for undergraduate classes, they each “serve a need,” said James Perey, Executive Dean of Yavapai College’s Verde Valley campus.

“I view the four-year public institutions as partners in helping students reach their educational goals,” Perey said. “We currently have many articulation agreements with the four-year universities and are continually working towards improving those articulations and pathways.”

When it comes to online courses, so long as users have a good Internet connection, they could take courses from any school in which they could gain admission. So regarding out-of-state or online programs, Perey said that there is “much competition.”

“We provide coursework in a variety of modalities, face-to-face, hybrid, and online which provides options for students,” Perey said. “Our competitive advantage in the Verde Valley is not just our physical presence or facilities, but our great faculty and staff who care about student success.”

Breaking stereotypes

The average person may think that a college’s Film and Media Arts program could really only be taken in a traditional classroom. But that’s not the case, at least not at Yavapai College, which offers four of its seven classes online this semester.

“Screenwriting is all on-line, though you can take the editing class in person on the Verde Valley campus,” said Helen Stephenson, director of the college’s Film and Media Arts Program. “We feel this works really well, as writing is a very quiet and reflective skill. Getting input for each script on-line works well, and the instructor is available for individual questions.”

According to Stephenson, Yavapai College will offer nine Film and Media Arts classes next semester, with two in-person, three hybrid – a combination of on-line and in-person – and four on-line courses.

“We design classes in a way that fits the subject matter the best way possible,” Stephenson said.

Connecting business to education

Shannon Shoots, Community Relations director for the Office of the President at Northern Arizona University, attended Oct. 18 forums in both Clarkdale and Cottonwood. Shoots said that workers are staying at their jobs for less than three years because they want “a better job, or they want more money.”

This begs a two-part question: how to educate people in the Verde Valley – and how to keep them from leaving the proverbial nest for the proverbial greener pastures.

One answer, said Linda Buchanan, board member for the Verde Valley Forum for Public Affairs, and Community Education Coordinator for Yavapai College, is to “do it yourself.”

“We have the capacity to develop entrepreneurs,” Buchanan said. “I want to focus on what we do here. An asset-based problem-solving approach.”

Tuesday

From 8 a.m. until 9:30 a.m. Oct. 25, Lisa Hirsch and Carolyn Fisher will lead the discussion at Sedona Oak Creek School District, located at 221 Brewer Road in Sedona.

To register, visit http://aztownhall.org/event-2357146.

From noon until 1:30 p.m. Oct. 25, Camp Verde Economic Development Director Steve Ayers and Beaver Creek School District Superintendent Karin Ward will lead the discussion at Wingfield Plaza, located at 564 S. Main Street in Camp Verde.

To register, visit http://aztownhall.org/event-2357144.

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