In 1987, James W. Carr joined Harding University in Searcy as executive vice president, senior vice president and professor of business. In 2015, Gov. Asa Hutchinson named him to the Higher Education Coordinating Board, where he is in his second year as chairman.
Carr was nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2005 to the National Security Education Board. In 2020, he was appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
After undergraduate studies at Harding, Carr received a master’s and a doctoral degree from Florida State. He currently leads Highland Home Holdings, an Arkansas investment company.
Please explain the limits of the Higher Ed Board’s authority.
The board of 12 volunteers is appointed by the governor, and as the name implies, it is the coordinating board, not the governing board, for higher education in Arkansas. The board is charged by law “to coordinate higher education in Arkansas and to assure an orderly and effective development of each of the publicly supported institutions of higher education.”
The board also has full responsibility for the state student aid programs. The staff consists of about 50 professionals who execute the mission.
Will there be lasting impacts from the coronavirus pandemic on higher education?
The virus forced campuses to shut down and shift quickly to online teaching. Online instruction, once considered inferior in the academy, is now becoming widely accepted. The institutions that have healthy endowments will be in a much better position to survive and thrive than those that don’t. One prognosticator has projected that 200 colleges and universities will close in the next 18-24 months. Just as in business, the institutions that remain committed to their mission, provide a high-quality education and have a first-class marketing program are likely to enjoy success in spite of the current environment.
You’ve served as EVP and professor of business at Harding. Do you see lasting impacts of the pandemic on business?
There will be some immediate impact such as correcting disrupted supply chains, reassembling personnel, increasing and securing an online presence and maintaining capital adequacy, etc. I love the quote attributed to Calvin Coolidge that “America’s business is business.” The United States is the greatest country in the history of the world, and Arkansas is among the finest states. I have no idea what might happen in the next several months, but given a year or two, business in our country and state will again thrive. American business is the envy of the world, and its strength and resolve during this crisis give me absolute assurance that most will overcome this adversity.
Are there policy changes you’d like the Legislature to make in the next session?
The relatively new productivity funding model that funds academic completion and not just enrollment has been hugely successful in producing the results we want. In the coming session, we will look for ways to tighten up the language around the distribution of funds with declining state revenues. We will be working to improve an already effective policy.
What was your worst career mistake and what did you learn from it?
I learned early in life to make sure you are always grateful for the associates who helped you in your chosen career or along life’s path. There are many to whom I expressed that, but others whom I simply never told how important they were to me, and now they are gone. Appreciation is very important to everyone. I am now more purposeful in making genuine appreciation part of my daily life.