HLC Self Study
Chapter 9 Graphic

Summary

Estrella Mountain Community College, one of the ten Maricopa County Community Colleges, serves the communities in western metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona. Since opening in 1992, the College has strived to create a “sense of place” that represents the historical and cultural values of the West Valley, while providing students and the community with meaningful and engaging learning experiences.

Estrella Mountain enrolls more than 14,000 students per year and is master-planned to be a comprehensive college of more than 40,000 students at full build-out. The College operates under the auspices, policies and governance of the Maricopa County Community College District. At the same time, the internal administrative structure and future-oriented perspective of college leadership allow the Institution to reflect and respond to the concerns and characteristics of its service area, while adhering to the mission and vision established by the Maricopa County Community College District Governing Board.

For new and continuing students, the Estrella Mountain experience offers comprehensive programs and services, instruction from award-winning faculty, robust learning support services, dynamic learning environments, and one-stop student services.  Estrella Mountain also provides flexible learning options such as online and ‘hybrid’ courses – a blend of in-person and online coursework – as well as weekend and evening courses. The student experience is further enriched by on- and off-campus activities such as an Honors Program for student scholars, student ambassador opportunities, student clubs, social awareness events, internship opportunities, and research activities. As part of the College’s broad offerings available to students, the SouthWest Skill Center, which became part of Estrella Mountain in 2000, provides quality training for immediate job entry into the allied health and distribution industries.

During the last 10 years, the Institution has experienced dramatic enrollment growth, a leadership transition, a $71 million Capital Development Program to support expansion (as part of a $951 million District bond program), budget cuts, and an organizational culture shift to support a learning-centered philosophy. Always operating with the service strategy of Your Success is Our Success, the Institution has navigated the many challenges of a growing institution, while capitalizing on every opportunity to foster and advance the organizational focus on teaching and learning.

This Institutional Self-Study documents the College’s strengths, challenges and recommendations for the future in preparation for its third accreditation visit with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (HLC). During the first two visits, Estrella Mountain focused on becoming a comprehensive community college by highlighting access to the various degrees, programs and services it was delivering to the West Valley community.  During this third accreditation visit, the Institution will demonstrate to HLC and the West Valley community that Estrella Mountain is now on the path toward comprehensiveness as a future-oriented, learning-centered, connected, and distinctive community college.

FUTURE-ORIENTED

Shaped by a vision that strives to prepare all learners to achieve their dreams and transform their lives, Estrella Mountain’s processes and institutional resources demonstrate a future-oriented approach to planning. College planning documents are strongly guided by environmental forces, while remaining directly linked and driven by the College’s vision, mission and academic priorities. Long-term institutional planning documents, such as the College Master Plan, Financial Resource Plan, Enrollment Management Plan, Instructional Plan, and the Learning and Technology Plan, aid the College in maintaining a future-oriented approach in the implementation and improvement of programs and services for students. To ensure that scholarship dollars remain available for future students, the faculty and staff at Estrella Mountain remain committed to growing the College Endowment through various scholarship fundraising activities. In preparation for growth, the College purchased 80 acres in Buckeye to serve as a future campus site as part of a District-wide voter approved 2004 General Obligation bond program. To help bridge the gap until the land can be developed, the College opened the Buckeye Educational Center in fall 2011. Adjacent to a high school, the Estrella Mountain Community College Buckeye Educational Center consists of six classrooms and includes spaces for enrollment services, tutoring, administrative support, and faculty work areas.

LEARNING-CENTERED

In spring 2007, Estrella Mountain began an organizational culture shift aimed at transitioning the college environment from one focused on growth to one focused on learning. Considered a Learning College Journey, emphasis was placed on strengthening an organizational culture in which policies, programs, practices, and employees all work together to support learning. One result is that Estrella Mountain has reinforced continuous improvement initiatives and professional development opportunities that enable faculty, administration and staff to become more effective facilitators of learning.

The Institution has placed learning at the center of its educational mission by utilizing curriculum-integrated assessment, implementing an Institutional Assessment Cycle, adhering to a General Education Abilities Matrix, and establishing a college-wide program review process. Strategic Direction II of the College’s Strategic Plan, Creating a Culture of Assessment, reinforces the organizational commitment to assessing and documenting learning outcomes across divisions. To achieve various strategies that improve learning, the College utilizes both direct and indirect measures to advance institutional practices. Measures include assessment of learning outcomes and national instruments such as the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) and the Noel-Levitz Student Satisfaction Inventory. Strengthening the College’s commitment to improving student learning, the assessment of learning outcomes is also directly linked to the budget development process. Requests for resources are examined by the Budget Development Steering Team for their impact on learning. 

In addition to ongoing assessment efforts focused on learning outcomes, Estrella Mountain faculty continue to experiment with and assess the effectiveness of various teaching pedagogies. From learning communities and modular classes, to the utilization of innovative learning spaces, the Estrella Mountain General Education program has evolved in the past 10 years to now demonstrate a wide range of instructional pedagogies that directly focus on student success.

CONNECTED

As one of the Maricopa County Community Colleges, Estrella Mountain remains strongly connected to the District. The College purposefully aligns its vision and mission in a consistent manner with the District, while allowing the Institution to meet the distinct needs of its community.  Estrella Mountain administrators, faculty and staff are often called to participate on District committees focused on the implementation of system-wide improvements. 

Estrella Mountain also values strong relationships with educational partners, business and industry partners, and civic and community leaders. The College is proactive in creating and facilitating opportunities to connect with its constituencies through programs, outreach activities, advisory boards, and committees. Soliciting feedback from the communities it serves enables the College to develop innovative solutions to meet ever changing and diverse needs.  Estrella Mountain faculty members also actively participate in professional organizations relevant to the disciplines they teach, as well as professional development opportunities provided through the District and the College. These experiences assist faculty with maintaining the currency of their curriculum, by keeping them connected to their profession and the emerging skills required by students to be competitive in today’s technological workforce.

In effort to stay informed of emerging needs, as well as to help to strengthen a student’s connection to the Institution, communication between administrators, faculty, staff, and students is ongoing and dynamic. As one example, in order to obtain candid and relevant feedback from students, forums are held throughout the academic year. These forums are designed to give students an open platform to express concerns, opinions and ideas about various issues affecting them. Facilitated by student leaders, topics have included financial aid, advisement/transfer, tuition increases, administrative updates, accreditation, and college master planning. More than 200 students attended student forums during the 2010-2011 academic year. Outcomes from student forums have resulted in the creation of a college mascot, implementation of an Athletics program and the inclusion of independent study rooms in newly constructed buildings.

DISTINCTIVE

At Estrella Mountain, every corner of the campus is considered a potential learning environment. When a student or community member walks across the campus, they experience beautiful buildings and archways that are complemented by native landscaping, peaceful water features and public art. Various courtyards provide informal gathering spaces for students, faculty and staff to meet and engage in social, professional and educational collaboration. Classroom spaces, referred to as Learning Studios, integrate mobile furniture, technology, lighting, and color to create stimulating and adaptable educational spaces. One unique example of a distinctive learning space at Estrella Mountain is the Reef Tank. To enhance the educational experience of Biology students, an 800-gallon Reef Tank that supports live reef organisms (e.g. crustaceans and coral) has been integrated into the curriculum by faculty. The tank, which is on display for public observation, is a visible example of how learning can occur outside the classroom.

Recognizing and valuing the diversity of its service area and constituencies, the faculty and staff at Estrella Mountain strive to create distinctive and innovative programs to address unique student needs. For example, with 44 percent of Estrella Mountain students placing into one or more developmental classes, faculty have teamed together to create various learning communities that focus on helping developmental students succeed. Other efforts include early outreach programs, such as the Achieving a College Education (ACE) pipeline program for middle and high school students, that aim to entice and encourage students to pursue and a complete a college education.

Students who attend Estrella Mountain are not only encouraged to succeed, but they are encouraged to pursue academic excellence. The College is proud to offer students an award winning Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society, as well as various opportunities to participate in undergraduate research. An annual Student Conference allows students the opportunity to work directly with faculty to conduct traditional research, as well as fieldwork across all disciplines, and present their findings at the conference. Examples of other distinctive programs available to West Valley students include an award-winning Physics program, the only Speech Language Pathology Assisting Program in the State and energy programs, including Radiation Protection and Power Plant Technology.  

Estrella Mountain was formally recognized in spring 2011 when the Aspen Institute listed the Institution among 120 community colleges with outstanding academic and workforce outcomes. Representing the top 10 percent in the country, the community colleges chosen not only demonstrate high standards in learning and college completion, but have established that they are training grounds for jobs that pay competitive wages. Estrella Mountain was the only Maricopa County Community College to be recognized by the Aspen Institute.

CONCLUSION

Upon completion of this self-study and submission of all documents to HLC, Estrella Mountain Community College believes that it achieves its vision of providing exceptional and creative learning experiences that prepare all learners to achieve their dreams and transform their lives. As an innovative institution of higher learning, the College clearly demonstrates that it not only provides West Valley communities with access to a variety of degrees, programs and services, but that it does so as a learning-centered organization that deeply values teaching, learning and caring. As a result of this intensive evaluative process, Estrella Mountain Community College respectfully requests 10-year, continued accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The Institution also requests approval of an additional location, as well as a change in status so that the College may now be considered a distance delivery degree-granting institution.