1ON1 with Scottsdale Community College President Dr. Eric Leshinskie
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press
The campus of the Scottsdale Community College sits upon a special piece of dirt for those who call the Valley of the Sun home.
For many in Scottsdale, it serves as a testament to local higher learning, an extension of legacy learning and increasingly today, experts there say, a place for students to engage with cutting-edge technology amid workforce training built for the 21st century.
But as the evolution of higher learning begins to adapt to the Digital Age, community colleges across Maricopa County are looking inward to discover the right programs for a blossoming generation of digital natives.
“The last 10 years have been a challenge for community colleges when it comes to enrollment,” Dr. Eric Leshinskie, president at Scottsdale Community College, told the Arizona Digital Free Press. “I think the culture of community college needs to become more nimble and flexible in how we offer our courses.”
Dr. Leshinskie knows the Maricopa County Community College District — from both an educator and administrative perspective.
“I have been a member of the Maricopa County College system since 2003,” he said of his tenure at several educational entities throughout the community college system. “But my time here in Scottsdale began in July. I have had the good fortune serving our system in our central office where we did professional development for our teachers. I was also afforded the opportunity to serve as interim executive vice chancellor and provost.”
“Honestly, seeing both the system and the college level is very valuable as it allows me to see the effect of the decisions within the system — being on a campus really helps me understand how the system works.”
Total enrollment at Scottsdale Community College for the fall 2022 semester sits at 7,346 students of which 5,763 of those students are classified as “part-time” students. There are 667 employees at Scottsdale Community College today, according to Eric Sells, Scottsdale Community College marketing and public relations director.
While Dr. Leshinskie admits enrollment has been a challenge in recent semesters, he says he sees an opportunity to serve current and future students better.
The name of the game? Frequency and flexibility.
“Our traditional model needs to change. Our students, they really need to get to education a little quicker,” he explained of changing the paradigm. “We, as a community college, need to provide that flexibility without compromising rigor. What we cannot do is compromise the learning experience.”
Offering eight-week courses is a step in the right direction, Dr. Leshinskie says, pointing to the need for more nurses throughout Arizona, which he says is an opportunity for Scottsdale Community College.
“We are fortunate to have strong university and workforce training partnerships,” he said of working to help meet local workforce needs of the community. “I also think our future is to meet workforce needs — to make sure we are addressing emerging industry needs.”
Economic development, the community college & the ‘Digital Native’
Dr. Leshinskie says he believes Scottsdale Community College can be an effective piece of the economic development machine working for both the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community as well as surrounding greater Scottsdale community.
“We want to be as relevant as we can be for the community we serve,” he said pointing out first-in-class film and theater offerings at the Scottsdale campus.
“Not only is our film and theater a leading school, our culinary program and hospitality program is very unique compared to what else is out there. I would also offer our pharmacy technician program is another positive example.”
Part of the allure of the Scottsdale Community College is where it sits, Dr. Leshinskie explains.
“The location of where we are and the partnership with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community provides us with some unique characteristics of our campus,” he explained. “We have dedicated spaces for cultural awareness.”
Coupled with meaningful community ties, Dr. Leshinskie sees the campus as a piece of the local economic development machine for Scottsdale and its neighboring indigenous community.
“I really see the community college at the heart of economic development for whatever reason they are in support,” he said. “We are an integral part of economic development for the city of Scottsdale as often the first question for businesses to locate here is, ‘What is the quality of your public education?’”
Today, the community college system part of Maricopa County Workforce Development is the No. 1 provider of employees, according to Dr. Leshinskie.
“We are the largest provider of workforce development in the system. Also, we are one of the largest employers of the community.”
A local program at the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce coined “Workforce Connection” appears to be a promising new endeavor on campus, Dr. Leshinskie points out.
“In my first four months we have already connected with the local chamber of commerce through ‘Workforce Connection,’ where we are going to develop new curriculum and new internship opportunities.”
But as the birth of the digital age continues to emerge in education and business, Dr. Leshinskie explains those narratives proving true, according to enrollment numbers.
“Right now, we have had a steady decline as it was happening prior to the pandemic,” he said. “This fall semester, however, we have seen positive signs in our in-person learning programs. But there are a number of students who have say they have benefited and prefer the online setting. We are close to a 50-50 breakdown. Work and life is simply taking up time.”