NWACC expands nursing, trails certificates

Students walk across campus at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville in this file photo.
Students walk across campus at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville in this file photo.

Northwest Arkansas Community College is adding several new technical certificates, certificates of proficiency and an administrative unit focused on trails, following approval by the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board at a meeting in Little Rock on Friday.

The technical certificates are in practical nursing, trails and community development, and trails construction and maintenance, while the proficiency certificates are in trail management and trails technician. The new administrative unit will be Trails Trade School and Construction Technology.

In conjunction with the Office of Skills Development and Northwest Arkansas Community College's Secondary Career Center, the 35-hour practical nursing certificate will provide post-secondary and secondary students skills necessary to perform basic patient care tasks in a variety of settings and will require two new, full-time faculty members, according to Mason Campbell, assistant commissioner of Academic Affairs at the Arkansas Division of Higher Education. Existing facilities, resources and equipment will be used to support the program, with funding for the secondary program provided by the Office of Skills Development.

Licensed Practical Nursing is listed as a high-demand occupation, according to the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services. At the post-secondary, non-degree award level, the statewide median salary for a Licensed Practical Nurse is nearly $46,000 -- and nearly $49,000 in Northwest Arkansas, where growth in the profession has continued for decades. The Division of Workforce Services' Occupational Projections data shows a 12% increase in demand (approximately 250 positions) for practical nurses over the next seven years in the region.

The program, approved by Northwest Arkansas Community College's board of trustees in May, will begin this spring, and renovation of one classroom is planned at an approximate cost of $10,800, according to the state higher education division. Northwest Arkansas Community College also plans to spend approximately $1,000 on faculty textbooks.

"We do have [health care] facilities requesting [practical] nurses and asking us to start this" technical certificate, said Carla Boyd, Northwest Arkansas Community College's director of nursing.

The Trails Trade School and Construction Technology administrative unit will require eight new positions. It -- and the trail certificates -- were approved by Northwest Arkansas Community College's board of trustees in August and will take effect next fall.

The proposed 15 credit-hour certificate of proficiency in trail management and 12 credit-hour certificate of proficiency in trails technician are stackable credentials with the 34 credit-hour technical certificate in trails construction and maintenance, according to Campbell. All three of these credentials will stack into the existing Associate of Applied Science in General Technology.

The 36 credit-hour technical certificate in trails and community development is designed for students pursuing career opportunities in community planning, economic development, non-profit trail organizations or tourism agencies, according to Campbell. The Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation awarded Northwest Arkansas Community College with a renewable, three-year, $8 million grant to fund the various trail certificates, as these certificates align with a state focus on outdoor recreation -- particularly in Northwest Arkansas -- and students will benefit from "world-class lab facilities, equipment, and personnel."

"We need people who can build safe, innovative, and long-lasting trails," said Megan Bolinder, executive director of the International Trades School for Trail Innovation. "Who benefits from these credentials? Our students."

These certificates can also help fill a workforce need in state parks, she said. Of the nearly 1,600 positions available in Arkansas State Parks, roughly 39% are currently vacant.

"I really look forward to seeing what this [program] looks like throughout the state," said Graycen Bigger, the board's chair. It presents "incredible opportunities."

It "sounds like a phenomenal program," added board member Kyle Miller of Little Rock.


The Coordinating Board also approved several new offerings at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville: a graduate certificate in environmental resiliency certifications, graduate certificate in environmental resiliency, graduate certificate in environmental resiliency leadership, graduate certificate in environmental resiliency sustainability, and a Master of Science in environmental resiliency (all 100% online,) as well as a Doctor of Musical Arts in Music with a concentration in conducting (not an online degree). The University of Arkansas System board of trustees approved these offerings last month.

Certificates and degrees in "resiliency" prepare students to deal with the challenges of climate change and help organizations better contend with the impacts of climate change, according to UA-Fayetteville Chancellor Charles Robinson.

Students with this knowledge will be valuable to major employers not only in the state, but nationwide, according to the university. Each of the graduate certificates will launch for the spring 2024 semester.

Most students who will enroll in the graduate certificate programs will likely already be in the workforce, but it will make themselves eligible for raises and promotions with these added certifications, according to Provost Terry Martin. "We anticipate attracting working professionals."

Environmental resiliency

The Master of Science in environmental resiliency will be "a unique program with little competition," with graduates "in a position to advance their careers with a better understanding of what is needed to move companies, agencies, and businesses toward a more resilient and environmentally friendly future," according to the university. Total program costs for the university will be $60,000 to two develop a dozen new courses, and six new faculty will be hired, but no additional equipment, facilities, classroom or technology resources will be necessary for the degree.

The program will begin in the spring 2024 semester, according to the university. It should have roughly 10 students in the first year, 30 in year three.

Musical Arts

The Doctor of Musical Arts in Music with a concentration in conducting will also begin in the spring, and no such program exists in the state, according to Robinson. Many professionals would like to attain this degree in Arkansas, rather than having to leave the state, and fewer than 50 institutions nationally offer this degree.

This is "for students seeking the highest degree in the field," Martin said Friday. Though beginning with the single concentration in conducting, the university will expand concentrations in the future based on need.

The university expects two to three students enrolled annually, and no new university resources are required, as current faculty will teach the courses, according to Martin. In addition, doctoral degrees in the Humanities are a "key metric" in the Carnegie Foundation's research designations for universities.

UA-Fayetteville has a "Research 1 - Doctoral University: Very High Research Activity" designation from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and is the only institution in Arkansas with R1 status. Of the nearly 4,000 public and private schools nationally classified by the Carnegie Foundation, only about 4% have that distinction.

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