The NorthWest Arkansas Community College culinary arts program has reached capacity yet more students are seeking to join the program. A solution to potentially growing the program was one of several discussions Friday (Jan. 23) during the NWACC College Board of Trustees retreat.
Retreats are designed for planning and longer discussions and while consensus can be reached among board members, no binding votes are taken.
The culinary arts program is housed in the Center for Non-Profits at St. Mary’s in Rogers. It has about 140-150 students but college officials believe they grow the program to 250-280. The problem is the space at the nonprofit center is too small and, because it was designed to be a hospital kitchen (it’s the old St. Mary’s Hospital location), the space is not fully conducive to a teaching environment.
An investment company that was not named during the retreat is interested in purchasing the old Tyson building in Bentonville, which they would then lease out to various tenants. NWACC has been given the option to be an anchor tenant if the deal is completed. NWACC officials have been told they would have more definitive information in three to four months.
If the program is able to grow, the progress would be made gradually. It would first grow from about 150 to 200 students then to 225 or 250 students then in several years it would reach 250 to 280 students. Approximately 250 students would make the program self-sustaining, the trustees were told.
NWACC President Dr. Evelyn Jorgenson said college officials visited a well-established program in the Seattle area recently to learn what is offered and also better determine what would be needed to make NWACC’s program top-notch. College officials would also need to determine what aspects of the program would best fit the Northwest Arkansas region.
The board members also discussed the college’s legislative advocacy game plan, including proposed bills that could affect the college. Jorgenson said instead of going to the Legislature and talking about how the college is underfunded from the state, the strategy would be to share what major state objectives the college could have a hand in advancing.
The four key advocacy areas are:
• Workforce development
NWACC could increase the state’s supply of a skilled and ready workforce by expanding and building new workforce programming in Benton and Washington counties.
• Student success
NWACC could increase student retention and progress of first-year students and graduation rates by improving various student support services.
• Arkansas Child Abuse Prevention
NWACC could increase the number of the trained and educated professionals at the Arkansas Child Protection Training Center by increasing the affordable delivery of training and by expanding the Child Advocacy Studies Certificate to other Arkansas institutions of higher education.
• Maintaining affordable tuition and managing student costs
NWACC could maintain affordable tuition and fee rates for students by relying less on tuition and fees and more on state support for its operating revenue.
Jim Hall, executive director of government relations, shared about several bills that have already been introduced in the first 10 days of this legislative session. Several were of interest to the trustees, including a bill that makes public/private entities better defined, and another bill that would allow faculty and staff to carry guns on campus.
Another bill was of special concern because it would drastically change how the Arkansas lottery scholarships are awarded. The bill would create two levels of students with the first level receiving automatic payments but the students must have a 3.25 grade-point average and meet other requirements. The second tier would be students who have lower grade-point averages and those students would have their scholarship payments deferred until they earn 27 credit hours.
The concern for NWACC is that a majority of its students fall in the second tier category. If the bill passes, college officials would need to find ways to help those students attend and stay at the college until they qualify for the scholarship money. Hall said this would affect about 300 of the college’s 400 students who receive the lottery scholarships would be affected.
The board members also heard preliminary discussions about enrollment and retention, and the annual budget.
Todd Kitchens, vice president for learner support services, shared estimated enrollment and retention figures during the retreat. The college has focused on better ways to attract students, and improve the college’s ability to retain the students it recruits. Kitchens said he has met his initial goal of 1% retention and plans to increase that by 1% every year for at least the next five years.
Debi Buckley, chief financial officer, said the college planned for a 3% reduction in enrollment and the fall enrollment was slightly better than they had anticipated. Spring semester enrollments will not be confirmed until next week and there will also be eight-week course and summer course enrollments to consider.
Buckley said she anticipates a balanced budget at the end of this fiscal year, which ends June 30. The board members got their first look at anticipated numbers for FY 2016, which officials estimate will start with a nearly $7.6 million fund balance.
The board members also got their first look at the enhanced 5-Year Strategic Plan.
“It’s a living, breathing document,” Jorgenson said, adding that each year college officials will choose the priorities for that given year.
When she first came to the college, the strategic plan was essentially a list of goals. She decided there needed to be action plans to demonstrate how those goals would be met, and the goals needed to be more focused on student success.
The board first heard about the plans for an enhanced strategic plan at their July board retreat. The document they reviewed Friday was the finished product.