In the two years since it opened, growth at the Payson campus of Eastern Arizona College has been little short of spectacular.
For new Assistant Dean Barbara Ganz, the challenge is to make sure that growth is focused on fulfilling the community's needs.
"After a few months on the job," Ganz said, "my impression is that the community loves this campus and embraces this campus."
The numbers back her up. Some 1,350 students are enrolled for the current semester, which means about one in every 10 Rim country residents is currently taking at least one course at EAC-Payson.
"People are taking more credit hours, we have more full-time students, and we have more students under the age of 22 than ever before," Ganz said, spreading out computer printouts on her desk to prove her points.
One shows, for example, that 82 Payson High School graduates are currently attending classes on campus, along with 58 current PHS students. A year ago those numbers were 74 and 34 respectively.
"We have a greater partnership with the high school," Ganz said. "Many more students are coming over for specific classes than before, and they are more aware of what they can take over here and transfer back for graduation credit."
The trend toward younger students is one that Ganz is working very hard to maintain. In addition to working more closely with the high school, she is:
Re-evaluating the college's course offerings and including more of the general education courses required for transfer to four-year universities. "For example, we are now offering developmental psychology for the first time, and it has nearly 40 people in it," she said.
Increasing access to financial aid. A financial aid workshop was recently held for parents and students, and three computer terminals have been placed in the administration building lobby where students can fill out financial aid applications.
Offering advising on demand. Before, students were required to make an appointment with a counselor.
Changing the mindset that students shouldn't even bother to register for classes that might be canceled. "Now we are cancelling very few classes, if any," she said.
The steps Ganz is taking are designed to help EAC-Payson fulfill its mission as a community college a mission, she admits, that needs to be better communicated to Rim country residents, too many of whom still don't understand what community colleges are and what the EAC-Payson campus has to offer.
"A community college has multiple missions," she said. "Of course it has the transfer mission, providing the first two years of a four-year degree.
"But it also has the mission to increase the economic development of a community by helping to create a competent, well-trained workforce.
"Yet another mission is developmental. Not everyone who attends a community college has a high school diploma, so one of our missions is to get people up to the college level," she said.
"Community colleges have an open door policy, and what makes us truly unique is that we believe that means everybody should have the opportunity to succeed, rather than the opportunity to fail.
"We set standards, we maintain the integrity of those standards, but we also provide all the support services necessary to meet those standards," she said.
The age diversity among EAC students is one of the institution's strengths, Ganz believes. Of the current enrollment, about 725 students are over 55 and 625 are under.
"It's wonderful to have people of all ages in a class," she said. "Young and old people work well together, they learn from one another, and it's truly an exciting thing to watch. You don't get that kind of emotional learning from a textbook."
It's learning that pays off when younger students transfer to four-year institutions, said Ganz, a product of the community college system herself. A recent study of Pima Community College students who transferred to the University of Arizona showed them to be more successful academically than students who went to the U of A right out of high school.
Ganz realizes that growth is only one part of the equation. There is much to be done," she said.
"We have a lot of work to do together to help the economic development of the community and the academic development of our young people," she said.
In the true spirit of the community college philosophy, she plans to accomplish these things in a very egalitarian fashion.
"I am a very good listener. I am committed to listening," she said. "Most of the changes I've made in the few months I've been here have come because my door is always open."