Officials from University of Arkansas at Fort Smith traveled to Bentonville Friday (Aug. 7) to sign an agreement with NorthWest Arkansas Community College that will help to streamline bachelor’s degrees for NWACC students in three disciplines beginning this fall.
The three disciplines first in this transfer program bachelor’s of applied sciences, bachelor’s of science in organization leadership, and bachelor’s of science in criminal justice.
“This is something we have been working on for a good while in an effort to create a seamless transition between our junior college and the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith,” said Dr. Ricky Tompkins, vice president of learning at NWACC.
He said the deal really goes back to the fact that UAFS began as a two-year college — Westark — that has now grown into a university. But UAFS also held to its roots and kept the areas of applied science and the academic rigor that involved in those disciplines, Tompkins added.
Within the three areas there are 14 different associate’s degrees with a path toward a UAFS bachelor’s degree. Unlike other transfer program agreements formerly signed with NWACC, this time the bachelor’s degree from UAFS can be finished completely online.
“We are bringing this opportunity to NWACC students that may not can make the hour-long drive to Fort Smith. Perhaps they work jobs in the day. Now they have a complete online option to get their bachelor’s degree at one of the most affordable rates in the state,” said Dr. Georgia Hale, vice chancellor for academic affairs at UAFS.
NWACC President Evelyn Jorgenson said the schools have worked together to accomplish a smooth transition for NWACC students because it’s needed and it’s the best route for some students to obtain their bachelor’s degree. With the cost of college escalating each year Jorgenson said school officials continue to look for ways to help students get the most for their money. That starts with concurrent enrollment when students are in high school. This helps trim some of the hours needed once they graduate high school.
At $75 per hour, the NWACC tuition for in-district students provides value compared to $287 per credit hour at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. After a 6% increase in tuition this year UAFS tuition rates are $277 per credit hour. Hale said one thing the transfer students from NWACC can count on with the new program is that anytime classes in the degree plan are offered in Bentonville they will not be asked to take them at UAFS.
“When the NWACC transfer students bring their transcripts to UAFS we can quickly sketch out a degree plan for the final two years and 120 hour bachelor’s degree. When they leave our office they have a road map to follow with estimated time requirements. If they get off track they can easily jump back on,” Hale said.
UAFS Chancellor Dr. Paul Beran said his personal roots come from community colleges having taught 17 years and then served as an academic dean and an academic vice president at community colleges.
“I jokingly say that I didn’t have a full-time job at a university until I became president,” Beran said. “I get what NWACC does and the importance of it, as well as as the importance of universities working together with community college to provide more opportunities for students.”
He said the beauty of the agreement is that students don’t have to worry about losing hours or time or money because their associate’s degree will drop seamlessly into the plan for the UAFS bachelor’s degree.
“My goal is that this is the installment of the super-highway between NWACC and UAFS. I look forward to lots of traffic whether it’s on ground or online in the months and years ahead,” Beran said.
Official and both schools said they expect overall enrollment this fall will flat to down slightly.
Jorgenson said with the strong local economy and virtually full employment in Northwest Arkansas that NWACC’s total enrollment will likely be down some this year. That said, the first-time college students enrolled at NWACC this year outnumber 2014. She also said the school’s online enrollment continues to grow and provides a wide range of opportunities.
Beran said he expects flat enrollment enrollment numbers and also attributed that to the better economy. He too, said online enrollment continues to grow and he’s excited about he new master’s degree program to be offered this fall in health care administration.
“We did a lot of research and work with the hospitals to determine what was most needed in terms of a master’s degree plan. Now we are an accredited master’s program and that’s a big deal because now we can begin to look for other programs that might be needed. We don’t want to duplicate programs that can be obtained in Fayetteville, per se but look for gaps and work to fill those,” Beran told The City Wire. “This health care administration master’s degree is available entirely online and we are hoping to market this outside the state as well. We have a physician in Korea that is already taking a couple of the pre-approved classes. He has bought a clinic and wants to get this administration expertise.”