story by Jamie Smith
Flexibility, affordability and providing the programs that teaching professionals need have been the biggest contributor to consistent growth at the Harding University Northwest Arkansas Professional Center in Bentonville.
Enrollment rose 50.4% between 2011 and 2012. Stated enrollment is 185 students, many of which are taking more than one class, according to school officials.
Harding is in the midst of building its own center in Rogers after several years of leasing space in Northwest Arkansas. The center first opened in Springdale then relocated to its location on Phyllis Drive in Bentonville. In 2005, the center started out with 3,000 square feet, then moved into an additional 3,000 square feet and soon doubled that by 6,000 square feet for a total space of 12,000 square feet to meet an expanded curriculum.
The new center, under construction on South 52nd in Rogers, will also be 12,000 square feet and is easily visible from Interstate 540 (between exits 83 and 85). The two-story building was valued at $3.1 million, according to school officials.
Harding used a a low-interest, 10-year loan for the building, according to university officials.
“The board felt that it was a better use of university funds for us to have our own building,” said David Skelton, professional center director. “The board is in total support of the NWA center.”
The steady growth at the college, which is based in Searcy, is largely because the university provides programs that are needed when they are needed. Most of the programs are geared towards teaching or counseling professionals.
“It goes in cycles,” Skelton said of which programs are most popular.
For example, several years ago the master’s degree in reading was the most sought after program. After that, the education leadership program later became the most popular. At this time, the biggest draw is the Masters of Arts in Teaching to Licensure (usually referred to as MATL) program. It offers a master’s degree in teaching as well as a standard Arkansas teaching license.
The MATL is generally geared towards two distinct target audiences: professionals with a bachelor’s degree in a different field than teaching who want to change careers, and to those who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in teaching but who want to enhance their earning power and experience by obtaining a master’s degree.
No matter the program, another major draw to Harding is the schedule and the cost, Skelton said.
“Our schedule fits working adults,” he said. “With our online classes they can continue to work and finish their degree.”
For classes that require in-person attendance, there is usually a Saturday or other convenient option for working adults.
Skelton said that scholarships are available, which lowers the tuition at the private university near, and in some cases even below, the University of Arkansas.
Amanda Ware of Centerton earned her master’s degree in reading in 2006 at the center and is now an instructor there. Ware said that Harding’s intense, research-based literacy programs have proven highly successful — and therefore highly popular — among area teachers.
“They go into schools and know what they are teaching,” Ware said of the teachers and student teachers who go through Harding programs.
Denise Woody from Bentonville is going through the MATL program. She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and worked in human resources for several years. More recently, she’s been a stay-at-home mother. She decided to go back to school for the teaching degree now that her youngest child is in school and she graduates in three weeks.
“I like how easy it was to work around a job and family,” she said of Harding’s programs. “I’m also getting my master’s degree and a standard license not a provisional license. I think it’s great, I’m encouraged to see the growth in the area.”