Colleges See Need For Northwest Arkansas Outposts

by Chris Bahn  on Monday, Jun. 3, 2013 12:00 am  

Board of Trustees Chairman Ric Clifford announces plans for a Washington County expansion of Northwest Arkansas Community College. The Bentonville school is eyeing at least half of 39 acres in Springdale near Arvest Ballpark as the location. (Photo by Rob Smith)

One of the few negatives, though, is that just over 25 percent of adults in the region have education beyond high school. It’s better than the statewide average of 19.5 percent, but lags behind the national average of 33 percent., a project developed by the council and aimed at degree completion, uses Bureau of Labor statistics from 2011 to illustrate the importance of postsecondary education. The unemployment rate in the area, per, is nearly double when comparing high school graduates with bachelor’s degree holders. Median weekly earnings were at $1,053 for bachelor’s degree holders and $638 for those with only a high school diploma. Associate degree holders were earning about $6,760 more per year than high school graduates.

A more educated workforce is a more employable and more attractive workforce, said Mike Malone, president and CEO of the council, which works with local chambers of commerce and companies in the region to improve northwest Arkansas.

“From the perspective of growing area companies, they’ve got a real appetite and need for better-trained talent,” Malone said. “Some companies are having to recruit that talent in because we can’t turn out enough graduates in fields that they need. So permanent facilities like the one that is being announced [in Springdale] for NWACC, the expansion at JBU, the growth at UA and UAMS Northwest are all key to turning out the well-trained, well-educated workforce that employers need.”

Harding provides an example of how the population boom and company needs are fueling education growth in the area.

The university began offering a pair of education-focused master’s degree programs in a leased, 3,000-SF building in 2005.

A year later the square footage used had doubled, and by 2008 Harding occupied eight classrooms and two office suites totaling 12,000 SF.

In January, the school opened its own 12,000-SF building with four office suites and eight classrooms.

The building, which is owned by the school, allowed Harding to reach a northwest Arkansas enrollment of 500, its highest since opening it satellite campus eight years ago.

As the number of students and the space have grown, so have the courses offered. Harding now has 14 degree programs, ranging from bachelor’s degrees in education and business to an MBA program that is totally online.

“When we came to northwest Arkansas we didn’t come to compete with other schools or programs,” said David Skelton, director of Harding’s location in Rogers. “We wanted to offer different programs than other schools and work with non-traditional students. We have come a long way since using someone else’s facility. The growth has been such that we could afford and justify having our building.”

Directly across from the main campus of NWACC sits an office for Drury College that will focus on online education.



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