Degree ‘options’ focus of new ATU-Ozark program

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 90 views 

A new degree program at Arkansas Tech University-Ozark Campus is designed to provide students with more options and should be more “relevant” in a Fort Smith metro area plagued with persistently high jobless numbers.

The Arkansas Department of Higher Education has approved an associate of general Studies degree for ATU-Ozark. The new degree allows student advisors to work with existing and new students “to tailor their coursework to meet industry needs,” and also prep for a move into a four-year degree.

“It’s all about options. … The spirit and intent of this degree was to ensure the student had more options,” ATU-Ozark Chancellor Jo Blondin said Monday (April 30). And it’s also to make sure we were doing as much as we could to tail0r our programs to the needs of industry.”

The general studies degree combines 15 hours of core general education requirements and 45 hours of technical or academic coursework.

“By doing so, students are provided a degree pathway into multiple programs of study, in particular a Bachelor of Professional Studies at Arkansas Tech University at Russellville,” noted the ATU-Ozark statement.

Blondin said the program, which should ultimately make students “more employable,” is not a buffet of courses, but allows an advisor and student to work through the process “with an academic goal in mind.”

The February unemployment rate rose to 9.1%, up from 8.9% during January and the same as the February 2011 rate.

The number of employed in the Fort Smith region during February was an estimated 116,405, up from a revised 116,098 during January, but more than 5.2% below the 122,835 employed in the region during February 2011. Based on the figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were an estimated 6,430 fewer people employed in the Fort Smith metro area during February compared to February 2011.

Blondin said ATU-Ozark staff definitely see an increased interest among people who want to know more about academic options because they fear for their jobs or know they are being laid off.

“We’ve had a lot of interest in our campus, and I know we are going to have a lot of those (laid off) students here in the fall,” Blondin said.

Some of those laid off or expecting to lose their jobs are already working with the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services (DWS) to pursue academic options.

“We are working to put together, with the Department of Workforce Services, a tailored program for the dislocated workers in heating, ventilation and air conditioning,” Blondin said, adding that about 25 people in the region who work with DWS are interested in the program.

The new program also ties in with the Arkansas Tech Career Center (ATCC), a secondary technical center for students from 11 high schools in Pope, Yell and Johnson counties. High school students with the ATCC may now seek an associate degree in their specialized field, such as culinary arts, construction technology and computer-aided design and drafting.

Located in Russellville, ATCC merged with Arkansas Tech-Ozark last year. Because of the partnership between ATCC and Arkansas Tech-Ozark, participating high school students can receive concurrent college credit for classes taken.

“I applaud anybody who is trying to create more relevant models for education that really matters,” Glen Fenter, a native of Charleston and now president of West Memphis-based Mid-South Community College, said Monday when told of the new ATU-Ozark program.

Fenter has long been an advocate of a “system loop” that provides flexibility for people to move between a job and the academic world.

“Workforces and businesses out there are demanding more than just the traditional academic models. … The world doesn’t look like it did more than 20 years ago,” Fenter said, adding that relevant degrees and flexible degree programs “are important to to moving the state’s economy forward.”

Fenter said a technical certificate in the right area — geographically and by occupation — may generate as much as 80% of the salary level as a bachelor’s degree.

“Arkansas is the last place you should try to ration education” by only supporting bachelor’s degree studies and programs, Fenter explained.

With the news of Whirlpool leaving and other job losses, Fenter said he is not surprised that area institutions seek academic flexibility.

“When you have those potentially devastating incidents in the Fort Smith economy, the motivation for trying something different increases,” Fenter said.