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Conway College Presidents Talk Retention, Campus Changes

3 min read

College presidents in Conway discussed the challenges facing higher education and changes coming to their respective schools on Tuesday at the first Outlook Conway conference, hosted by the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce.

Hendrix College President Bill Tsutsui, Central Baptist College President Terry Kimbrow and University of Central Arkansas President Tom Courtway shared similar feelings about the state of higher education in Conway and their respective missions.

“We’re friends for one thing,” Kimbrow said. “At Hendrix and Central Baptist – the missions are not unique but a little varied. The win-win is when the [graduates] stay in Conway. The win is when they stay in Arkansas.”

Courtway talked about the cost of higher education, and how it related to what he said was the industry’s biggest concern: keeping students in school.

“The most critical issue I think facing all of us is retention rates and graduation rates,” Courtway said. “How do we keep students in school and how do we get them to graduate? How do we do all of that while being very mindful of how much it costs to send them to college? We also have to be very mindful of what we pay our faculty to keep them here. It’s not always fun. It’s hard.”

The presidents said higher education isn’t often viewed as a business as much as they believe it should be. Just the same as any other company or industry, they said, the industry faces difficulties with profit, retention and talent recruitment.

“Those of us in higher education face the same concerns as those in the business community,” Tsutsui said. “I have to convince 400 or so families a year to spend a lot of money to send Junior to Hendrix. That is a lot of hustling we have to do to fill up our classes every year. We deal with a tangle of government regulation; we put up with a lot from Washington. Higher education is not a lot different than your business – we’re operating in the same environment and we have a lot of the same challenges.”

But in Conway, Tsutsui said, college leadership has the assistance of what he called a healthy “town and gown relationship” — a mutually beneficial partnership between the schools and city.

The presidents also talked about upcoming projects on their campuses. At Hendrix, Tsutsui noted a new $7.5 million, a 17,000-SF facility said will serve as a “new front door to our campus.” Built on the site of the Rainey building, the new facility will house Hendrix’s admissions office.

Central Baptist College is in the middle of a project called “Vision 2020,” which aims to complete 10 significant construction projects in 10 years. With three already completed, Kimbrow announced the fourth: an events center and “the largest project in the history of the college as far as the cost,” which has yet to be determined. While Kimbrow said many details of project have yet to be decided, it will include a center for the school’s athletic programs and kinesiology majors.

At UCA, a new mixed-used development, Donaghey Hall, is set to be open in the fall and be ready for students to move in, according to Courtway. The 67,500-SF development includes about 15,000 SF of commercial space on the ground floor. The project was funded through a bond issue that was approved by the UCA board last year.

Courtway also announced a new program called the Arkansas Coding Academy. The three-month program’s tuition is $6,000 with up to $5,000 in scholarships available for students. It’s intended for students seeking a short program that can kick-start a new career path. UCA is also planning a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering.

With all these educational efforts, the panelists agreed that their schools must work to better connect their students to the city of Conway so those students will consider staying in the area to work.

“We need to do more to tie our grads into the community, so they see it as somewhere they may want to spend their working and personal lives,” Tsutsui said.

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