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Arkansas Baptist’s Fitz Hill Sees Education, Urban Revitalization and Investments Intertwined

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Fitz Hill, who was born and raised in Arkadelphia, was named president of Arkansas Baptist College in 2006.

Hill graduated from Ouachita Baptist University in 1987. He received a master’s from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, in 1991 and a doctorate in higher education leadership from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1997. Hill rose to become Razorback assistant head football coach before becoming head football coach at San Jose State University in 2001-05. He was executive director of the Ouachita Baptist Opportunity Fund from 2005-06.

Arkansas Baptist’s primary mission is educational, but urban redevelopment was added to the mix under your leadership. What plans are in store for the campus and neighborhood?

Arkansas Baptist College has been an anchor in its historic neighborhood of Little Rock for 130 years. As the college declined, it appeared that the neighborhood followed suit. As I worked with the board of trustees to develop our strategic plan, Vision 2020, it was evident the college could not be sustained without integrating the community. Consequently, the college became active in economic development to empower the college and community we call home.

To date, Arkansas Baptist College has invested nearly $50 million to improve the college’s infrastructure as well as revitalize the surrounding community by purchasing boarded-up homes, vacant lots and deteriorating businesses. Our Vision 2020 guides us to nearly another $40 million to be invested in our community through the creation of a community development corporation that will seek investments as well as donations from the private sector to help continue developing our community and better serve our students.

You expanded the college’s outreach program to help young men and women gain GEDs and have shown a willingness to take on more academically risky students. How do you balance these challenges with the federal guideline pressures on graduation rates and student loan default rates?

ABC continues the mission for which it was established in 1884 when the sons and daughters of former slaves sought to remove ignorance from the community. The easiest thing to do is accept the best and brightest students and feel good about building on the success of others. Or you can try to be a game changer, which ABC has done for 130 years, to eradicate the ignorance that plagues many urban communities today by reaching out to those who are often left out and whose educational needs are not met. A GED is a passport to college. I believe if a student possesses the will and the determination to achieve, there should be a college ready and willing to help the student. We are that college.

There were many issues to address at Arkansas Baptist when you arrived. What were the prioritized issues then, and which ones remain?

Finances have been a major issue for the college since the doors opened. With financial issues come accreditation issues. On assuming the presidency on Feb. 1, 2006, I focused on three major areas: 1) to get ABC reaccredited to keep our doors open, 2) to build a sustainable financial model based on student enrollment, and 3) to rebrand our college and engage the community. We have accomplished all three of the major goals established on my arrival.

What’s the role of faith in the education of Arkansas Baptist College’s students?

As a faith-based college, it is our intent to educate students through the liberal arts tradition while also including moral values based on Christian principles from the Bible.

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