story by Jamie Smith
A new five-year strategic plan is in the works at NorthWest Arkansas Community College and it is specifically geared to measure against how it helps students succeed.
The NWACC Board of Trustees met for its semi-annual board retreat, which is a brainstorming and planning meeting where consensus can be reached but no binding votes are taken. The retreat, held Saturday (July 26) at the college, was followed by an official board meeting where the board members approved researching plans to expand the college’s culinary arts program.
NWACC has had a five-year plan but in the process of reviewing and revising it for the next five years, NWACC President Evelyn Jorgenson said.
“Everything we do needs to be for the benefit of the students.”
The trustees got the first look at the plan draft and after their comments the proposed plan will be presented to various stakeholders including faculty. The final 5-year strategic plan would then be approved in January. The strategic plan is divided into eight areas with key goals and corresponding action plans described within each area. The staff and board members focused on goals they are trying to accomplish for the 2014-2015 school year. There are eight key areas for the five-year strategic plan and the goals for this school year, if approved by all stakeholders and the college board.
The college will institute direct marketing plans that target specific audiences including high school students and other key markets for growth. College officials will also develop an internal marketing plan for employees so they better understand and can promote the college’s student-centered focus and assist in recruitment and retention.
Another aspect of increasing student enrollment will be to identify and address barriers that potential students face during the enrollment process and to create strategies that remove those barriers. Action plans to achieve this goal include investigating lowering out-of-state and online tuition; development pathways to move adult education (GED, ESL) students into credit and non-credit programs (a low percentage of these students enroll in NWACC after completing their initial program); increasing opportunities for veterans to earn more credit for military training; identify enrollment and registration processes that need improvement; and identify which population groups are facing unique challenges and what it would take to remove those challenges.
The college will also focus on increasing enrollment of students who come from under-represented populations through increasing funding for various programs and identifying new ways to appeal to these students, especially various types of non-traditional students. Increasing early college experience program participation rates is an ongoing goal but no specific changes to the processes were outlined for this school year.
INCREASE STUDENT SUCCESS
Increasing the fall-to-fall semester retention rates is a big task for the college staff this school year, which they hope to accomplish through analyzing retention data trends and targeting improvement areas; developing professional development opportunities for faculty and staff to improve the learning experience; determining and overcoming potential barriers for under-served student groups; and re-inventing the first-year experience for new, first-time, full-time students.
Two other goals within increasing student success are to identify key campus improvements that will enhance the overall student experience – such as increased security and a security smartphone app, and partnering with the IT department to create a better experience for students.
A major component of attracting and keeping students is having quality programming and assessment programs. This ensures that the programs and ultimately the students are meeting state, federal and personal goals. The college plans to improve its procedures for program review, but also meet with employers and business leaders to determine where new programs might be needed.
New programs must also be taught well so the college will work to improve its teaching and learning processes by creating more orientation and faculty development opportunities for part-time faculty.
The college also wants to create cost-effective strategies for ending current major grants and sustaining those programs that continue to be valuable. This will be achieved through making several improvements and enhancements to the grant processes within the college.
College officials have worked in recent years to create a more financially stable environment for the college and were recently able to stabilize tuition rates. A major focus this year will be to balance enrollment with revenue and potential expenses with specific strategies such as making sure NWACC has an affordable and comprehensive insurance portfolio; making changes in the treasurer’s office so that students are counseled more on their financial decisions regarding their academic future; implementing specific technology; improving finance workflow processes and enhancing usage and communication of available surplus assets across the entire college.
Another goal is to “further develop and improve budgeting process that supports the college strategic plan and processes.” The actions planned to achieve this financial goal include creating a balanced budget; building an annual operational contingency; reducing costs with various measures such as energy efficiency and automation; and increasing monthly financial reporting.
The college also hopes to diversify its state appropriation funding by pursuing different types of funding for programs such as workforce development, capital request projects, and other state-funded programs that are outside the standard state appropriation.
While state and grant funding are vital for success, the college has a history of not being adequately funded by the state, according to school officials. The NWACC Foundation helps with scholarships, some capital projects and other programs that enhance the overall learning experience at NWACC. The college plans to pursue specific means of increasing Foundation revenue, according to the plan. Another goal is to increase corporate and learning programs, which meet community needs but also increases income for the college.
The fifth area set out in the proposed strategic plan addresses how the college will further engage the community and create opportunities for its students to be a part of the community. This includes goals such as offering community education programs and supporting student and employee involvement in community non-profit events, such as developing a team to participate in a fundraiser event.
Many programs and initiatives in the strategic plan will be noticeable and public to the students but some are behind-the-scenes, all with the intent of improving student experience. A part of this initiative is to increase technology alignment with all of the strategic goals through actions such as creating plans that increase communication, streamline software upgrades and create easier remote access to applications and services for students.
Another aspect of operations is the employees and how they are managed. A goal for this year is to increase employee satisfaction rates through promoting work/life balance, providing consulting for individual employee growth and development , and streamlining human resources processes using technology. The college also wants to make improvements in its finance area to improve the employee experience in that department. Other action plans include evaluating and improving new employee orientation, investigating retirement planning services for employees and investigating alternative health plans.
Maintaining facilities and establishing new locations are major goals for NWACC this school year. Several renovations and repairs are expected for existing facilities and officials hope to complete the purchase of land in Springdale near Arvest Ballpark by the end of September. During the official board meeting after the retreat, the board authorized college staff to research the possibility of expanding its culinary arts program to a building on Southeast 8th Street in Bentonville.
Part of maintaining a campus is working with other businesses and government agencies. The college hopes to complete the purchase of land where railroad tracks run through the campus, and will continue talks with the City of Bentonville regarding the expansion of 8th Street and Water Tower Road.
Another goal is to “maximize facilities and support educational programs,” which will be achieved through activities including evaluating space in the National Child Protection and Training Center, identifying renovations necessary to move adult education programs to the main campus and creating an inventory of classroom needs in Burns Hall.