HOT SPRINGS -- National Park College has appealed the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board's April 29 decision to deny a role and scope change for the college that would ultimately allow it to offer a baccalaureate degree.
"Two dozen states already allow community colleges to provide select bachelor's degrees with the purpose of offering education and training in high-demand career fields specific to their communities," National Park College President John Hogan said Tuesday afternoon.
"We are not trying to form a new playbook," Hogan said. "NPC has an obligation to our students and our community to continue this journey. If any of the options we pursue result in bachelor's degrees for which our students and the citizens we serve have asked, we must explore all of them."
In a letter of appeal dated Monday, the college said it learned through the Arkansas attorney general's office that, according to the Arkansas Division of Higher Education's policy, institutions may appeal a decision of the coordinating board within 30 days of the vote. The college learned of the option to appeal in the week following the vote.
National Park College asks for the board's reconsideration based on the following four points: The college did not have the opportunity to respond to questions posed on an "FAQ" sheet given to the board, because it did not see it until after the meeting; the college is confused over whether ADHE staff did, or did not, recommend the proposal; community presenters were not provided ample time to convey their support; and "the circumstances of the meeting were extraordinary."
Regarding the latter point, Hogan cited the fact the entire board was not present, as four members logged out of the virtual meeting before hearing the college's proposal. He also noted many of the "no" voters expressed reluctance and that a "decision of this magnitude warrants a review and conversation with the entire board."
While noting the college did not have the opportunity to address the information on the "FAQ" sheet, he addressed it in the letter. Regarding the number of graduates in Registered Nursing and Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs, the college said its program has enrolled a full cohort of students each year, and expects to again this fall.
"NPC's program expanded in 2016 with the goal of gradually doubling the students we accept," the letter said. "This was part of an ill-fated partnership with (Henderson State University) to provide BSN on the NPC campus. However, NPC continued to increase enrollment until the pandemic."
Dean of Nursing Janice Ivers said the department began to "push to help alleviate the shortage of nurses here in Garland County," in 2014 and has not turned away any qualified students to the RN program for the past several years. In 2018, the nursing program increased its number of admissions from 40 to 85 qualified applicants.
Following two years of covid-19 influenced admission numbers, 85 applicants were admitted in 2021, though some declined because of the pandemic. Ivers said, "the applicant pool for 2022 is robust and a full cohort of 85-90 students is expected."
The college has enrolled a full class of Associate of Science in Nursing students every year for the past eight years and grown the number accepted within that time as well, the letter said.
ADHE noted in the FAQ sheet that it was not clear in the college's proposal where the 120 bachelor level hours would come from, as the college stated it would require 33 extra credit hours over the RN degree's 66 hours. The college clarified in the letter that the BSN completion is 33 hours above the 90 hours students earn when receiving their ASN.
"Students would complete 120 hours much as they do now with an online completion program," it said.
"This program would absolutely fulfill the needed 120-hour requirement. The specific hours of the degree are provided in detail in the degree proposal, which the ADHE Director assured us had been made available to the Board."