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NWACC President Jorgenson evaluates first year, looks to future

story by Jamie Smith
jsmith@thecitywire.com

July has been a month to reflect on the past and look to the future as Dr. Evelyn Jorgenson celebrated her one-year anniversary as President at NorthWest Arkansas Community College July 1.

“I think it was an excellent year,” Jorgenson said. “It was a year of learning as it should have been and as I expected it to be.”

Jorgenson spent much of the year getting acquainted with the NWACC faculty and staff, as well as the Northwest Arkansas community. She and the staff also worked to stabilize the college’s financial situation, including stabilizing tuition so that there were no increases.

“We looked very closely at all operations to tighten the belt wherever we can but not sacrifice being about to serve our students in both Washington and Benton counties,” she said.

A major focal point for the coming year – its 25th year following authorization on Aug. 15, 1989 – will be to improve student retention. Fall 2013 enrollment was 8,020 students, down 3.8% compared to fall 2012. However, a record 1,602 freshmen were enrolled in the fall. The fall-to-fall retention rate for all students held at 46%.

“We will be looking at every aspect of our operations to see what we can do better to make sure students are successful,” Jorgenson said.

Overall, NWACC had close to 20,000 students in the academic year 2013 (July 2012 to June 2013) enrolled in college classes, workforce development adult education and other non-traditional college courses.

Washington County growth is another focus for the next year as workforce training, and career and technical education become a priority. The college has planned a Washington County Center for several years and it appears those plans are closer to reality. The college hopes to close on land for the facility this fall and will focus on career and technical programs designed to get people immediately into the workforce, Jorgenson said.

Steven Hinds, executive director of public relations and marketing, said the college has been in negotiations with land owner Philip Taldo to purchase the 20 acres next to Arvest Ballpark in Springdale. The land appraised for $2.5 million and Taldo has agreed to a $2.4 selling price to the college.

The NWACC Board of Trustees approved a Parameters Resolution on June 9, which authorized up to “$3 million in aggregate principal amount of NWACC District Student Tuition Revenue bonds to finance the acquisition, construction, and equipping of capital improvements in Washington County (the center).”

Tuition revenue bonds must be used because the millage the college receives comes only from the Bentonville and Rogers school districts and therefore cannot be used to serve Washington County. If approved, tuition paid by students in Washington County would be the funding source for paying back the bonds.

The college must submit its plans to several state agencies for approval. Those steps include:
• Requesting approval from the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board to purchase the land using the tuition revenue bonds. This meeting is set for Friday (July 25);

• Submitting the method of finance to the Department of Finance and Administration; and

• Submitting a request before the Arkansas Legislative Council Review Committee (next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 3). This committee reviews the request and makes its recommendation to the Arkansas Legislative Council, which meets Sept. 19.

“If we receive approval from each of these groups, we would seek approval from the NWACC Board to issue and market the bonds,” Hinds said. “We plan to close on or before the end of September.”

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The NWACC Foundation would then implement a fundraising campaign to raise money to construct a building.

The NWACC Board will meet for a retreat 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday (July 26) to discuss its five-year plan, goals for the upcoming year and other college planning activities.

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