Remaking NPC: Four-Year Degrees At Community Colleges Within Reach

By: Dr. John Hogan

Dr. Hogan and Dr. Berry shaking hands over a contract with two school employees behing them.I was fortunate enough to participate in the dedication of two new science labs yesterday. In the short and virtual time allotted, it was difficult to magnify the significance thoroughly. It was impossible to recognize the culmination of effort that resulted in NPC’s robust partnership with Southern Arkansas University and what that will mean to our students.

NPC students, as I often say, are our architects. Our theory is that if we listen carefully to our students and hear their dreams, we will find plenty of opportunities to help them. A surprisingly high number of students tell us that they are academically prepared and aspire to earn bachelor’s degrees, and they arrive here at NPC confident they will realize that goal.

Six years ago, NPC’s board agreed to begin an initiative that it ultimately branded “National Park University.” The main goal of NPU was to ensure that NPC students had appropriate power in the transfer conversation. At the very minimum, students should not lose credit toward their bachelor’s degree in the transfer process. Through NPU, we have been able to forge nearly 100 guaranteed, lock-step transfer degrees in a wide variety of disciplines. NPC also measures its success by counting, comparing, and evaluating graduating transfer numbers annually, publicly reporting these data to our board.

This was an important step. When it’s executed properly, NPC’s graduates step into the Arkansas university of their choice as bona fide juniors. However, as the student voice resounded with more clarity, NPC understood that place bound students would not realistically be able to transition to an Arkansas community outside of this service area without undue hardship. About one-half of our associate degree graduates can and do transfer immediately after graduation, the other half cannot solve this geographic dilemma. Thus, our team determined to bring the junior and senior years of instruction to NPC’s campus.

NPC hypothesized that this would be straightforward. The campus has a ‘university’ look and feel, augmented by extreme natural beauty and robust student life. Our students offered a captive audience for an entrepreneurial university to step in and meet our students’ needs. Southern Arkansas University stood out in its enthusiasm for helping Nighthawk students advance their academic careers. Thus far, they have determined that three bachelor’s degrees can be offered to students on premise at NPC’s Hot Springs campus. The science lab expansion solidified the infrastructure needed to deliver the junior and senior coursework for these Bachelor of Science degrees.

To date, there are just over 30 students who have identified themselves as pursuing these degrees on campus as part of this partnership. The actual number is likely at least double that, since some students do not identify their major early in their academic careers.

NPC continues to view itself as an entirely unique, independent community college. In its purest form, community colleges shape themselves to fit those investments which will provide the greatest return for their communities. Given the dearth of baccalaureate attainment in our service area and our state, offering bachelor’s degrees remains a strategic imperative for NPC. It is not, however, a singular direction. NPC continues to build its workforce, apprenticeship, health care, and vocational programs. Our innovation was also on display as we recently dedicated a new Makerspace and will dedicate a new Hospitality and Tourism Center next week. We are continuously adding degrees and certificates at various levels which advance all these disciplines, and we weave that program into the fabric of our community. The diversity of learning styles, workforce disciplines, and aspirations of our students continues to be our guiding light.