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BENTONVILLE -- Hundreds of students leave Northwest Arkansas Community College each year to continue their education at a four-year institution, a transition college officials want to make as smooth as possible.

The college recently has highlighted its commitment to partnerships with four-year schools, holding public ceremonies over the past four months to sign deals with the University of Arkansas, University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and Missouri Southern State University.

Student transfers

For the fall 2014 semester, 487 Northwest Arkansas Community College students transferred to a four-year institution in Arkansas. Forty-five students transferred to another two-year institution in Arkansas. Here are the most popular transfer choices and how many from the college transferred to each school last year.

• University of Arkansas: 351

• John Brown University: 48

• University of Central Arkansas: 22

• Arkansas Tech University: 20

• Harding University: 15

Source: Northwest Arkansas Community College

Enrollment

Northwest Arkansas Community College’s fall semester begins Monday. Officials built the college’s budget for the fiscal year on the assumption enrollment would be down 3 percent from last fall’s enrollment of 8,098 students. Todd Kitchen, vice president of student services, said during a meeting last month fall semester enrollment was 4 percent below what it was expected to be at that point.

“We are a little lower than expected,” Kitchen said on Thursday. “We’re hopeful we will make up some ground in the next few days.”

Source: Staff report

The college's agreement with Missouri Southern, for example, allows the college's students to enroll in challenging courses that will count toward their degree requirements and make a seamless transition into Missouri Southern's honors program. The agreement was signed in May and is effective this fall semester.

The college has dozens of arrangements with other institutions to ensure students moving on from the college may apply the credits they've earned there to a higher degree elsewhere.

"We don't want our students losing credits," said Ricky Tompkins, the college's vice president for learning. "They take all their requirements here and they're going (into a four-year school) as a junior with no deficiencies. We work with as many institutions as we can."

The college has reached transfer agreements with private schools like John Brown University and online schools like the University of Phoenix. It even has an agreement with a chiropractic school based in Iowa.

"We are continuing to expand. One of my focus areas is to broaden those articulation agreements," Tompkins said.

Nathan Keeling, 17, of Fayetteville will be a new student at the college when classes begin Monday. He chose it because it's cheap, it's close to home and it has a good culinary program, he said. He's the first from his family to go to college, he said.

Keeling got into culinary arts while a student at Springdale High School. He intends to spend two years at the college before transferring to Pulaski Technical College, where he's been promised a scholarship to attend that school's culinary institute, he said.

"I'm trying to get my basics down before I transfer," Keeling said.

Last fall, 532 Northwest Arkansas Community College students transferred to another two-year or four-year institution in Arkansas. Nearly two-thirds of those students headed to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, according to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

Other two-year colleges across the state have a similar number and range of agreements with four-year universities, said Bill Stovall, executive director of Arkansas Community Colleges, a nonprofit association that represents all 22 public two-year colleges in the state.

Stovall said he is an advocate for such agreements and for tearing down barriers that exist between the state's two-year and four-year institutions. Those barriers have been built as a result of the different missions two-year and four-year schools traditionally have had, he said.

"It's a century-old tradition, and it does not lend itself to change quickly," Stovall said. "But the change can be a fruitful pursuit once people get in the room together and start communicating."

Northwest Arkansas Community College signed an agreement with the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville's College of Engineering in 2007, said Bryan Hill, an assistant dean at the College of Engineering.

That agreement said the two schools would work collaboratively to help students transfer from the college to the university more seamlessly. They also agreed to help each other recruit students.

The College of Engineering's total of new transfer students nearly doubled -- from 98 to 198 -- between 2008 and 2014, Hill said. He could not say exactly how many of those were from Northwest Arkansas Community College, but said those students come well prepared.

The College of Engineering helped the community college set up an introduction to engineering course that is also offered at the university. The class wasn't popular at first, but it is now just about full, Hill said.

The College of Engineering also created a pre-engineering guide to show potential transfer students exactly what classes from the community college would count at the university's program.

"It took the guesswork out of it. Students don't have to worry about whether a course at NWACC will transfer," Hill said.

If a student can make it through Calculus II at the community college, it's a good bet that student will succeed at the College of Engineering, Hill said.

"That is the magical course for transfer students," he said.

Northwest Arkansas Community College has a transfer center run by Monica Moore. During the college's open house for new students on Thursday, Moore manned a table where she greeted many students interested in transferring later.

The transfer center offers workshops and one-on-one consultation, shares admission information and scholarship deadlines, assists with essay writing for competitive admission and scholarship applications and connects students with representatives from regional colleges and universities.

Not all students who transfer stay at the college long enough to earn an associate's degree. Many stay only long enough to "get their feet wet" at the college level before moving on, Moore said.

Jenny Roe, 20, of Fayetteville is enrolling at Northwest Arkansas Community College for the first time this fall. She took a year off after graduating from Fayetteville High School. She chose the college because she has three family members who went there.

"It's a good learning environment, and it's the cheapest thing I could find," Roe said.

She's undecided on whether she'll continue her education after her time at the college, where she'll concentrate on music and theater. Roe said she has very little experience in either field.

"Which is why I'm here," she said.

NW News on 08/23/2015

Print Headline: College aims to ease students' transitions

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