Board OKs plan for University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College

The University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College campus in North Little Rock is shown in this undated courtesy file photo from the college's Instagram page. (Courtesy University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College)

The University of Arkansas System board of trustees has approved a new strategic plan for the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College.

UA-PTC's revised mission now states that it "aspires to be the flagship two-year institution in the region to develop life-long learners, prepare excellent employees for careers, foster innovation in advanced technologies, and contribute to the economic and civic development of communities."

The 2023-2026 plan is the result of "18 months of very focused and dedicated work by a great many people on our campus," said Chancellor Summer DeProw. As UA-PTC leaders met with community stakeholders, they too often heard "we don't know who you are and what you do," so rectifying that lack of awareness is an overarching aim of the new strategic plan.

Student recruitment and persistence, community engagement and partnerships, and employee esprit de corps are the three main goals of the strategic plan.

Increasing enrollment is an aspiration of most every strategic plan for the nation's colleges and universities, and while employee esprit de corps may be more "unique," it's no less important, DeProw said. "[We want to] lower employee turnover and have true career trajectories for faculty" so they remain with UA-PTC.

UA-PTC aims to increase credentials awarded by 6% annually over the next few years, increase course pass rates to 85% by academic year 2025-26, increase the number of students completing Associate Degrees on time by 10% by academic year 2025-26, and increase retention for full-time students to 70% by the fall of 2026, among other targets, according to the plan.

The plan also calls for boosting community partnerships and engagement, as well as fostering a culture that encourages growth, pride, belonging, and connection among staff. To do so, UA-PTC targets decreasing employee turnover by 10%, increasing the number of employees who attend at least professional conferences annually by 10%, and increasing annual professional development hours by 5% by academic year 2025-26.

"We're going to break this down into real bite-size pieces [and] review this on an annual basis," DeProw said. Vice chancellors have been charged with establishing annual tactical plans -- due each October 1, with status reports due the following June -- and those plans will begin in the spring semester before the year of action in order to align them with budgeting.

UA-PTC, the UA System's largest two-year college -- and second-largest two-year college in the state by enrollment -- was established in 1945 as a vocational-technical school, but it has evolved through the years to meet varying education needs, according to the UA System. In addition to its main campus in North Little Rock, the college has locations across Pulaski and Saline counties, but enrollment at Pulaski Tech has decreased for four consecutive years, although enrollment this fall was down only 1% from fall 2022, at 4,152 students.

Recent enrollment decreases were not unexpected when UA-PTC instituted an eight-grade reading admissions standard several years ago, DeProw said. Though enrollment dropped, fewer students unqualified for college success enrolled, and retention has increased.

Concurrent enrollment "fell off dramatically" during the pandemic, too, she added. However, "we're slowly building that back up."

When DeProw was selected for the job last November, she said building the next strategic plan was one of her top priorities.

"It's time to get that going again, because -- done well -- a strategic plan can galvanize people around the mission and [lead us to] look for new ways to accomplish that mission," she said then. Crafting the strategic plan included "mobile fireside chats -- we even have a fireplace" -- with faculty for input, and a small group of faculty and staff interviewing students to gain their perspective, among other initiatives.

Trustee Kevin Crass noted Thursday during the trustees meeting at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith that a thriving UA-PTC is not only beneficial for that institution, but also the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, with which it shares the state's capital city.

Rather than compete, those UA System institutions "are critical to one another," Crass said. "We want them to complement one another, and I think they are" doing so.

UA-PTC is UALR's largest "feeder" school, and students can "flow seamlessly," Crass added. The two schools "work well together, [and] the community needs to appreciate how important UA-PTC is to it."

DeProw and her team understand the UA-PTC mission "and its impact on the economy, prosperity and quality of life in central Arkansas," trustee Col. Nate Todd noted in a news release Friday from UA-PTC. "Higher education as a whole is on the cusp of a transformation that demands two-year colleges to be a part of their communities and to understand the necessary means to advance economies and to adapt to meet those training needs. I believe that an institution that is tapped into a community's workforce needs and growth opportunities can make amazing things happen."