Northern Arizona University and South Mountain Community College broke ground Jan. 29 on a new building that will allow South Phoenix residents to earn a four-year degree from NAU.

The 3,000-square-foot facility on the SMCC campus will house three classrooms and faculty offices. The building is expected to be completed in November.

The 21st century is centered on a knowledge-based economy, NAU President John Haeger told the group of about 100 attending the groundbreaking ceremony. “So, if communities are going to grow economically,” Haeger continued, “they have to have the (educational) infrastructure that you’re building here today, and we are very much glad to be a part of it.”

“We are very excited to see this partnership develop, allowing students to get a four-year degree on our campus for the first time,” said SMCC President Ken Atwater. “We look forward to a long and productive relationship with Northern Arizona University.”

NAU will offer bachelor’s degree programs in early childhood education and elementary education in partnership with SMCC starting this fall. Other baccalaureate programs will be offered at the SMCC campus in the future based on local interest and enrollment.

The 2+2 partnership allows students to attend SMCC for the first two years and pay lower tuition, and then complete a bachelor’s degree through NAU without leaving SMCC.

“The facility on the community college campus allows students to have affordable education, not only at the baccalaureate level, but we hope at the master’s level and higher,” Haeger said. “It will also provide another way that higher education is accessible. That is essentially the way we will serve this generation of students.”

Sixty-one students are expected to enroll in the fall. About 3,000 students are enrolled at NAU sites in Maricopa County.