Historical Background

The learning college movement began in the early 1990's, when community colleges decided to enrich their student and teaching-centered values with learning-centered values. According to Terry O'Banion, the learning college concept places learning first and provides educational experiences for learners anyway, anyplace, anytime.  In January 2000, the League for Innovation in the Community College was awarded a grant to fund the The Learning College Project. The League invited community colleges from across the nation to participate. Eventually twelve colleges were selected as Vanguard Learning Colleges. The project enabled these colleges to collaborate and help fulfill their commitment to learning centered education.*

*Source: https://www.league.org/projects

Estrella Mountain Embarks on the Journey

During the spring of 2007, Estrella Mountain began a transition from a culture driven by full-time student equivalent (FTSE) growth to a culture based more on learning as the core driver in decision making processes. Labeled a Learning College Journey, emphasis was placed on changing the campus culture to place learning at the core of all programs, procedures and processes. Goals included:

  • strengthening of college planning efforts
  • increasing collaboration among divisions and departments
  • increasing participation in college initiatives and planning processes
  • increasing employee awareness about their role in student learning.

The details of the journey are located in the document Our Learning College Journey: A Detailed Account 2007 - Current (upper right section of this page.)

Highlights (2007-2022)

Early attempts at organizational change began around conversations and the development of a Title V Grant - Strengthening Hispanic Institutions. The title V grant was received in 2008 and significant initiatives have been developed and institutionalized as a result of grant funding:

  • (2007) Day of Learning: Estrella Mountain launched an annual "Day of Learning", which brought together facilitators and best of practices for learning. Day of Learning sessions are held throughout the day in the form of presentations, workshops, and forums developed and facilitated by Estrella Mountain faculty and staff.
  • Campus Discussions: The college holds several campus discussions about what it means to be a Learning College. One of the first campus discussion sponsored a visit from Dr. Cynthia Wilson, Vice President for Learning at the League for Innovation in the Community College.
  • President's Community Advisory Council: The first President's Community Advisory Council was formed with West Valley community members to gain insight and guidance regarding trends, educational opportunities, strategic directions, and collaborative program efforts. 
  • (2008) Collegial Meetings: An effort to foster a collegial atmosphere surrounding the Learning College initiative was launched during summer 2008. A committee of faculty representatives from each division, along with several administrators worked together on how Estrella Mountain could increase student retention.
  • (2008) Learning College Summits: In 2008, EMCC team members attended the League for Innovation Learning College Summit in Overland Park, Kansas, and focused their research on five main areas: 1) Academic Early Alert, 2) Addressing Incoming Students, 3) Campus-wide Student Engagement, 4) Developmental Education, and 5) Pedagogy. EMCC continues to send teams to Learning College Summits, including summer summits in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
  • College Evaluations: The College conducted an in-depth evaluation of college planning processes in the initial stages of the transition. Additional evaluations occur at regular intervals to assess the progress of our strategies and programs.
  • (2009) Accreditation Visit: During spring 2009, the college began preparation for an accreditation visit in fall 2011. As a result of the hard work and efforts of employees, Estrella Mountain received a 10-year re-accreditation approval from HLC. The approval was announced in April 2012.
  • Program Reviews: EMCC is in the process of completing more than 25 program reviews with an increased emphasis on learning. The college continues to evaluate course prerequisites to ensure student success is a priority.
  • Student Success Measures: Utilizing best practices and current research, Estrella Mountain implemented a no late registration policy and added late-start classes. From pilot programs, the college has also implemented mandatory orientation, testing and placement for students.
  • (2013) I Will Graduate / Student Success Fair: Started in 2013 to celebrate student success, focus on graduation goals, and meet students "right where they are", the 2-day annual event brings all campus divisions and a transfer fair together into a gamification event for students. Using a "passport", students receive personalized information from the areas they choose to visit, earn stamps in their passport, and receive an "I Will Graduate" tshirt by completing all passport zones. The event was designed by combining research from Vincent Tinto, Uri Treisman, Terry O'Banion, Kay McClenney, and Gail Matthews. Feedback from students and employees is utilized every year to improve and refine the event. The "I Will Graduate" messaging is utilized in smaller activities throughout the year, on marketing materials, by faculty with their classes and, by employees during interactions with students.
  • (2013) Estrella Hall Expansion-By retrofitting the existing space and adding physical buildings, the project greatly expands student learning opportunities and resources, including a new computer commons with full-access web connections, expanded library, classrooms, faculty offices, quiet rooms/areas for laptop uplinks, learning studios, and outdoor patios with connectivity. Beyond the core objective of creating new learning and community spaces, the buildings’ exterior demonstrates a strong focus on contemporary design and purpose.
  • (2013) Veterans Center-To provide quality service to a growing population of veteran and military students, EMCC remodels existing space into a dedicated Veterans Center.
  • (2013) Burrowing Owls-Biology students collaborate to create the EMCC Burrowing Owl Project, a learning initiative to construct on-campus habitats for displaced, indigenous burrowing owls.
  • (2015) Performing Arts Center Opening-Estrella Mountain celebrates the premiere of the new Performing Arts Center (PAC) with grand opening festivities and a community celebration over two days, featuring tours, activities and live performances by EMCC students, local school and community ensembles, and national performers.
  • (2015) Cyber Defense Designation-EMCC receives the first National Centers of Academic Excellence designation in Cyber Defense for a two-year institution (CAE2Y) in Arizona, awarded by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
  • (2016) Alternative Spring Break-Students and employees participate in the first EMCC Alternative Spring Break, completing nearly 370 combined volunteer hours for a community service learning project.
  • (2016) Title V Grant-The College receives its third Title V grant for $2.6 million from the U.S. Department of Education to create pathways for developmental education student success and increase completion rates for Hispanic populations.
  • (2017) EMCC celebrates 25th Anniversary with Silver Gala-Honoring 25 years of EMCC being part of the Maricopa Community College District, providing higher education opportunities, to help build a stronger community The Gala proceeds directly benefit the fund to support student scholarships
  • (2018) NSA and DHS cybersecurity endorsement for Estrella Mountain Community College
  • (2019) Dr. Rey Rivera is appointed the new EMCC President
  • (2021) Arroyo Hall construction complete- It has 10 learning studios, four flex labs (Makerspace, Fab lab, Art, and Music), 13 faculty offices, and an adjunct faculty suite. Construction of Arroyo Hall was part of a $33 million expansion project that included much-needed renovation work in the Southwest Skill Center, the remodeling of Kom A, infrastructure improvements including a new parking lot and chilled water system at the central plant, and a new biology lab and support space in Montezuma Hall.
  • (2022) Microsoft Datacenter Academy Opens at EMCC-The Datacenter Academy, located on the ground floor of Estrella Hall on EMCC’s main campus, 3000 N. Dysart Road, Avondale, is the result of a collaboration between EMCC, Glendale Community College (GCC,) and Microsoft. It serves students from both colleges, preparing them for high-demand jobs in the IT sector, including in Microsoft Datacenters.
  • (2022) Higher Learning Commission Reaffirms EMCC’s Accreditation - Establish a review cycle of the College mission to ensure it continues to meet the needs of its community members. EMCC's student assessment processes and methods reflect good practice, and yet, the college continues working to improve those processes.


  • 2022 August: President’s Cabinet Retreat-As a result of the HLC recommendation to establish a review cycle of the College mission to ensure it continues to meet the needs of its community members, the Cabinet focused on reviewing the College’s Learning Philosophy, Values, Mission, and Vision, and Shared Governance. 
  • 2022 September: two teams were established: 1) The Learning Philosophy Team; 2) Mission, Vision, Values Team
  • 2023 January: Learning Philosophy review presented to Leadership Council and new affirmation approved by Leadership Council

What we learned:

  1. The Terry O’Banion Learning College identity no longer resonates
  2. Learning is highly valued by EMCC employees and students 
  3. Feedback gathered to date could be used to craft values statement this spring
  4. Values statement will inform vision and mission statement creation in Fall 2023

Approved Recommendations

  1. Remove “Learning College” branding from HR postings 
  2. Archive “Learning College” website information
  3. Remove mandatory “Learning College” question from interviews
  4. Utilize feedback regarding learning to inform values statement
  5. Conclude work of Learning College Taskforce