NWACC discusses budget shortfall and better news

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 138 views 

BENTONVILLE — The estimated 2.7% decrease in enrollment will mean about $785,000 less in revenue for NorthWest Arkansas Community College, which was already expecting a shortfall for the budget year.

The issue received intensive discussion during Monday’s (Sept. 10) monthly NWACC Board of Trustees meeting.

This is the first time in the college’s history that enrollment has decreased rather than increased. The bad economy has, in some ways, helped the college’s enrollment as many people return to school to increase their skills or learn a new career.

With the estimated $785,000 in lost revenue the college will be tightening its proverbial purse strings even more, President Becky Paneitz said. The Board of Trustees will hear the new budget numbers at October’s meeting, she said.

The trustees discussed several concerns, including making sure that college staff is getting the resources they need to make enrollment successful.

“We were destined to have a down semester but looking forward, do you see us looking more students to other colleges?,” board member Joe Spivey asked.

Todd Kitchen, vice president of learner support services, said his staff is closely examining the different student groups to see where the decreases were and how student behavior is changing. Once that is determined, a better-advised plan can be used to retain existing students and gain new students. One scenario he’s noticed is the rapid growth in online courses both at NWACC and other institutions. Students, especially non-traditional students, are finding online courses to be the best fit for their needs, he said.

“There’s a huge opportunity in online courses,” he said.

Trustee Ric Clifford pointed out that while there were fewer students, the students who did enroll are taking about the same number of credit hours per student. That’s a good thing, he said, because if it were more students taking less credit hours, it would cost the college even more because of the facility strain.

Clifford also expressed concern about the fact that only credit students were being reported. The college serves more than 14,500 students between the credit and non-credit courses. Several board members agreed that touting the full number of students at the college is important.

“They may not bring in tuition money but there’s a huge pay off in what they bring to the community,” Trustee Mike Shupe said of the non-credit students.

Non-credit courses include adult development courses and certification programs for the corporate learning center.

The trustees learned several pieces of good news, including the fact that the Center for Health Professions is expected to be finished early. The environmentally-friendly building has several unique features including a Bioswale, which is a trench-like structure with large rocks, smaller rocks and sand that help purify the runoff water before it gets to the street and eventually into the area waterways.

Progress on the 8th Street exchange on I-540 is also progressing, Trustee Joe Spivey reported. He said City of Bentonville officials said that the next phases will take up to two years and includes imminent domain proceedings and utility infrastructure.