NWACC President Evelyn Jorgenson on Keeping College Costs Low

Evelyn Jorgenson became Northwest Arkansas Community College’s third president on July 1. She succeeded Becky Paneitz.

Before coming to Bentonville last year to head NWACC, Jorgenson had spent the previous 26 years at Moberly Area Community College in Missouri and had been that school’s president since 1996.

Jorgenson earned an associate degree from State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Mo., before earning a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Columbia College of Missouri and master’s and doctoral degrees in higher and adult education from the University of Missouri.

You started your academic career at a community college. How does that experience help you relate to the students you serve now?

I think it makes a significant difference to community college students that their college president is a graduate of a community college. Those students are able to see firsthand that someone like them was able to not only complete an associate’s degree, but go on to complete a bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. I paid for my own education, and like them, I completed much of my higher education while working and raising young children.

What will NWACC need to do if declining enrollment trends continue? How will two-year colleges respond to stay relevant?

Last fall, all but three of the four-year colleges and universities in Arkansas showed enrollment declines. All but six of the two-year colleges showed enrollment declines. I don’t think it is a question of how will two-year colleges have to respond to stay relevant. Two-year colleges, much like four-year colleges, are facing changing demographics. High school graduation rates nationwide are declining, though that is not as prominent in northwest Arkansas. Two-year colleges typically have an average student age of 25-27, and that is true at NWACC; that group historically enrolls in college at a rate that has an inverse relationship to the economy and employment rates. In other words, when employment goes up, community college enrollment goes down. The cost of higher education is also a factor for some, though community colleges are by far the most affordable option in higher education. NWACC will continue to offer high-quality, affordable, accessible higher education, and I have no doubt that if we are responsive to the business and industry needs of the area, our students will be successfully employed, with minimum student loan debt upon graduation, and we will continue to prosper for decades to come.

What is NWACC doing to control college costs, specifically administrative costs, that some have blamed for the rising cost of college?

The one advantage of a new president is that there is the opportunity to look at everything with a fresh set of eyes and to ask “Why?” That is what I have done. Nearly every facet of our organization is being scrutinized to find savings that are in the best interest of the students. One example is that we saved $18,000 this year by scrutinizing our memberships. We realized that we belonged to and paid annual membership dues to a number of organizations that were no longer used by our faculty and staff. Administrative costs are always a concern. On the one hand, we must be competitive or we risk not getting the best people for the job, but on the other hand, we constantly must ask ourselves if there is a way to absorb vacated positions and lower the number of administrators.

What are your goals for NWACC in the next year?

To continue to look for efficiencies throughout the college so that we can control college costs as much as possible, to right-size the staffing, particularly in administrative areas, to move forward with the Washington County Center, to build strong, mutually supportive relationships with the area high schools and other colleges in the region.