Enrollment to Drop at NWACC, Pulaski Tech

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014 12:00 am  

Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville reported having enrolled 7,018 students for its spring semester as of Tuesday, down 9 percent from Jan. 14, 2013.  (Photo by Beth Hall)

Unlike Pulaski Tech, NWACC receives local taxes in addition to money appropriated by the state Legislature and student tuition and fees. The college gets 2.6 mills from a Benton County property tax, first passed in August 1989, that supplies about $5.6 million of the school’s $43 million budget.

NWACC charges $75 per credit hour to students from the Bentonville and Rogers school districts (located in Benton County as is NWACC) and $122 per credit hour to students outside the local district.

Northwest Arkansas is generally considered a solid economic region: The college grew even when the economy was strong, which is more of a reflection on the overall growth of the region than any economic influence. Kitchen said the region’s growth has slowed and that, coupled with the stabilizing economy, has contributed to NWACC’s enrollment drop.

What both colleges are committed to in earnest is student retention. With fewer students enrolling, officials said it is more important to keep them in class.

“That certainly is a concern when we have a huge drop in enrollment,” Harkey said.

Kitchen said NWACC tries to provide support throughout the gantlet of the college experience. Many community college students are returning students, meaning they are returning to school after years, and perhaps decades, away so they may need some guidance to make the transition back to a classroom.

Kitchen said students fresh out of high school often need help, too.

“It doesn’t matter if that new student is 18 or if that new student is 48, the concept is crawl, walk, run,” Kitchen said. “We want to get you in, introduce you to the college experience, help you develop good study habits, introduce you to a tutor, set you up with an academic adviser to build a success plan. We try to provide as much guidance on the front end as possible.”

The guidance helps colleges two ways, officials at both schools said. Students in school have better success so they stay enrolled, and then they tell friends and family about their positive experience with the college.

“I think ... the success of students who had attended the community college, is the best way to [advertise],” Kitchen said. “We’re really pretty integrated so we’re in the schools, on the Internet, Facebook, all the social media mediums. We want to demonstrate as best as possible how relevant the community college educational system is.”

Neither Kitchen nor Harkey had an enrollment number that represented danger for his or her college.

“One of the unique benefits of the community college setting is we are very nimble and very fluid,” Kitchen said. “We can accommodate either growth or retraction. There is no great sense of anxiety. Right now, we don’t feel like we’re in dire straits.”



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