When NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) first opened its doors to roughly 1,200 students in August 1990, its founding board of directors included Jim Hall.
That one-year appointment is part of Hall’s long resume of service to the Bentonville college. Now, after three decades and a variety of roles, Hall is stepping away from the school. His last day was July 6, retiring after working the past 13 years as the school’s executive director of community and government relations and marketing.
NWACC, which reported fall 2019 enrollment of approximately 8,600 students, named Rep. Grant Hodges, R-Rogers, as Hall’s successor, effective July 13. Hodges is a three-term legislator who did not seek re-election this year.
For his contributions to the college, NWACC awarded Hall staff emeritus status.
“Jim has been a staple at the college since before NWACC was a college and championed the institution in so many ways,” chief academic officer Dr. Ricky Tompkins wrote in a letter to NWACC President Dr. Evelyn Jorgenson nominating Hall for the recognition. “Jim has helped change the lives of thousands of citizens of Northwest Arkansas and beyond. I have known and worked with Jim for almost 14 years and do not know of anyone more deserving.”
A Rogers native, Hall was a newspaper editor and publisher in Benton County while serving on the North Arkansas Community College (NACC) West Campus Foundation from 1986 to 1989. The foundation formed after NACC, now North Arkansas College (NorthArk) in Harrison, established a branch campus in Bentonville. Its success was evident, Hall said, and demonstrated the need for a permanent school for higher learning in Benton County.
On Aug. 15, 1989, when voters in the Bentonville and Rogers school districts approved a 3-mill ad valorem tax, NWACC was created.
Then-Gov. Bill Clinton appointed Hall to the college’s founding nine-member board of directors. He served as secretary and was involved in naming the college, hiring the founding president, designing the initial school logo and seal and purchasing NWACC’s first property, a temporary administration building.
According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, one of the first acts of the board was to capitalize the “W” in “NorthWest” to make the acronym NWACC and distinguish the college from NACC.
In a recent interview, Hall, 66, recalled how he came to be an employee at NWACC on July 1, 1991. He was on his way to Texas to work for a newspaper there. Don White, NWACC’s founding board chairman, had other ideas.
“I had gone to let Don know I was resigning [from the board] to take this job in Texas,” Hall recalled. “He said, ‘Before you go, I’d like you to take a look at this position we’ve got to fill at the college.’ By then, the college was something I had developed a passion for. I interviewed and was fortunate they hired me.”
AN ASSET ‘BEYOND MEASURE’
Hall’s first job was as a media relations specialist. He was later director of planning, grants and communications and led the effort for NWACC’s first 10-year regional institutional accreditation.
“Jim Hall has been an asset to NorthWest Arkansas Community College that is beyond measure. The value of his numerous contributions through his 30 years defy calculation,” Jorgenson said. “He was part of the team that got that fledgling little college started, but part of many teams throughout the last 30 years that helped shape and grow the college to what it is today — the largest community college in Arkansas. He and his vast reservoir of knowledge will be greatly missed by everyone.”
Hall has represented NWACC in many ways and promoted the idea of higher education in Benton County for more than 35 years.
“Back in the mid- to late-1980s, people in Benton County did not have an option for higher education,” he explained. “If they missed it coming out of high school, they missed it. There were no second chances. I had seen so many people from Rogers and Bentonville who could not go to the University of Arkansas because they were working during the day, and [the UA] only offered classes during the day. They didn’t have night or weekend classes. This was [a time] before distance learning.
“Community college was a way to give people a second chance at higher education, and I knew many people who needed that second chance.”
Hall said NWACC’s strong leadership through the years is a reason he remained at the college. He referenced NWACC’s three presidents: Dr. Bob Burns (1990-2003), Dr. Becky Paneitz (2003-2013) and Dr. Evelyn Jorgenson.
“I had the distinct pleasure of working for three good presidents,” he said. “I was given the opportunity to reinvent myself so often and been fortunate to do so many things at the college, and that was because the presidents let me.
“And each of those three was the right person at the right time to lead NWACC. They have all three done wonderful jobs.”
Hall recognizes his departure comes at a time when NWACC is facing some challenges, financial and otherwise. The college’s funding from the state and from local property taxes is expected to drop by about 5% next academic year. NWACC has also put a freeze on salary increases, due to the uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also noted NWACC is one of 22 public community colleges in Arkansas. He said that fact is not lost on some state legislators, who would like to see the number reduced through mergers with university systems.
“That may work elsewhere, and you are seeing that happening elsewhere. But it will not work in Benton County, for the simple reason that we have such a strong property tax,” Hall said. “[NWACC] will receive more revenue from local property taxes than from the state next year. There isn’t a college [in Arkansas] that can say that.
“NorthWest Arkansas Community College has been fortunate to have the autonomy set its course and, financially, is solid,” he said.
Hall did, however, speculate about the practicality of having 22 community colleges in the state.
“Maybe in 1990 we [needed that many], before we had distance education and before we had a better highway system in Arkansas,” he said. “Today, do we need 22? That needs to be looked at.”
If Hall sounds a bit like a politician, that may be in his future. He said retired life might include a run for office on some level.
“I got a little bit of experience these past 13 years doing government relations for the college, and I have enjoyed that,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed doing the work and enjoyed getting to know the legislators.”
Hall has never been one to sit idle. His “other” job while working for NWACC was as a freelance sportswriter. His byline appeared in the Bentonville-based Benton County Daily Record for more than 20 years, starting in the late 1980s and reporting on multiple sports for schools throughout the county. As the Daily Record’s beat reporter for Bentonville High School, Hall chronicled the Tigers’ first state championship in football in 2001 and the school’s first state baseball championship the following spring.