How Big Will NWACC Get?

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NorthWest Arkansas Community College’s Benton County campus straddles the Bentonville and Rogers line. After 13 years of rapid growth, NWACC has stretched far beyond those towns’ borders.

The school is looking for a new leader to take it to the next level, one that includes several new facilities, including the 44,000-SF Shewmaker Center for Workforce Technologies.

Bob Burns, the founding president of NWACC, has announced his retirement effective Sept. 30. The new leader of the school must meet several criteria laid out by the school’s trustees. Among those will be someone who may one day — perhaps sooner than later — help the school add even more facilities to meet a seemingly never-ending enrollment growth.

A proven fund-raising ability is one of five criteria being looked for the presidential search. The other four are visionary leadership, college administrative experience, collaborative leadership style and personal qualities.

“When we worked on the criteria we got lot input from various areas,” said Doylene Fuqua, a member of the NWACC trustees. “Obviously, the Chambers would like see us get someone with more of a business background [the candidate has].”

NWACC has 4,385 students enrolled for the fall semester, about a 10 percent growth from last year’s figures. The school has made it impact on the education of a different segment of Northwest Arkansas.

“If we continue to have some funding, there’s just no stopping on far we can go,” Fuqua added. “We look for and hope to remain a part of the community college and not part of the university system. They are two different things serving two different people.”

The average age of NWACC students is about 26.

Trustee Dick Trammel, a past chairman of the board at NWACC, believes the school will get applicants “nationally” to replace Burns.

“I think we’re recognized as an outstanding institution of higher education,” Trammel said. “And I think that will be reflected in the applications we receive.”

Helping bring a national appeal to NWACC is a comfortable salary. Burns’ salary for the 2002-2003 school year would have been $110,113.

The school’s operating budget for the current school year — July 1, 2002 through June 30, 2003 — is $15.6 million. Also, there is a $7.8 million construction budget and $2.8 million in restricted funds for such things as Federal student aid, scholarships and other restricted programs mainly funded through grants to the college from various sources.

“However, one thing I want to point out that’s one of my biggest requirements is students’ needs,” Trammel said. “Students are our customers. The taxpayers are our owners.”

Steve Pelphrey, Dean of Physical Affairs at NWACC, said that when he came to the school in 1999 the operating budget was about $13 million.

Despite the addition and expansion of facilities, school began this fall in a bind both with space and staff. Student services employees have been strained, often working 12-hour days. But the campus is on 131 acres and has even more room to grow if necessary.

NWACC recently announced it would not be purging students for nonpayment, making payment plans available. That is one of the reasons credited for the jump in enrollment this fall.

“During hard economic times, traditionally college enrollments have increased,” said Jim Hall, director of public relations, planning and grants at NWACC. “Now, granted Northwest Arkansas is not experiencing what other areas are, but you do see more students in college when times are tough.”

Class sizes have grown to an average of about 28 students. But that’s still much smaller than a larger university’s average class size.

Trammel called one of the most major decisions in NWACC’s history the naming of Burns as the original president.

“Our mission was to build a college on credibility with students, teachers, administration and facilities,” Trammel said. “[Burns] knew the system. He knew how to build a quality faculty staff and administration.

“My hope of the second president is to keep that quality.