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Community colleges, branch campuses grow in popularity.

MORE ARKANSANS ARE choosing community colleges and branch campuses over four-year colleges and universities.

According to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, the number of students attending community colleges and branch campuses rose more than 35 percent in the last five years and 59 percent in the last 10 years.

Thanks to a merger with the Quapaw Technical Institute last July, National Park Community College in Hot Springs saw its enrollment shoot up 128 percent between between 2002 and 2003.

Arkansas State University at Newport increased its attendance by 48 percent in the same period, and that was without the benefit of a merger.

At North Little Rock's Pulaski Technical College, however, ambition met education as the state's largest two-year public college grew at a rate unmatched by any Arkansas college.

In 1997, Tech started strong with 1,638 students. Now the college is well on its way to becoming one of the state's largest. Enrollment for this fall should be near 7,500, according to Dan Bakke, Pulaski Tech president. And Bakke doesn't think enrollment will peak until it reaches 12,000-15,000 students in the next 10 years.

The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville remains the state's largest college or university with about 16,449 in fall 2003.

Pulaski Tech is opening a new location on Kanis Road in Little Rock.

Two-year colleges like Tech are finding success recruiting older students. The average student age at Pulaski Tech is 28. And the state's mean age for students at two-year colleges is 27.7, a full three years older than the mean age for students at four-year colleges.

According to Bakke, the statistics tell the story of a student graduating from high school and not immediately furthering his education but later returning to school to advance his career.

"People realize they can't work for minimum wage the rest of their life and take care of themselves and their families," Bakke said.

Enrollment in technical programs is back on the rise after Arkansas' remaining tech schools merged with two-year colleges beginning in 2001.

At that time, the state had more than 17,000 students enrolled in technical programs. A year later, in 2002, that number was nearly halved. But 2003 saw a 7 percent rise in their enrollment, bringing tech program enrollment back above the 10,000 mark.

The biggest losers are the independent institutions, which actually saw a 6.5 percent decrease in enrollment from the last year. The slumping economy could be to blame, as the independents are some of the priciest higher educational options.

Hendrix, which is widely recognized as a best buy at the national level, is having a hard time selling its $15,630 annual tuition to Arkansans. Last year's freshman class was the liberal arts college's first ever to have more out-of-state students than in-state.

Enrollment at Lyon College at Batesville dropped more than 8 percent, despite the completion of its new 60,854-SF, $11.8 million Derby Center for Science and Mathematics.

Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia had a 7 percent drop in enrollment, while John Brown University at Siloam Springs added 7 percent to its student body. As a result, JBU has overtaken OBU to become the second-largest private university in Arkansas. The largest remains Harding University at Searcy, whose enrollment of 5,360 last year was a 1.56 percent increase over 2002.

Jack Lassiter took over as chancellor at the University of Arkansas at Monticello after Fred Taylor retired from the position in June. Lassiter had been the interim chancellor at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville.

At Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas, Steven Murray became the college's third chancellor.

After 10 years as president of John Brown University, Lee Balzer retired, making way for Charles Pollard to become John Brown's sixth president.

Tony Kinkel took over as president of the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville after serving as CEO of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges.

Trudie Kibbe Reed is leaving Philander Smith College after six years as the college's president to become president of Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla. Julius Scott is acting as interim president.

And Arkansas Northeastern College president John Sullins is scheduled to retire Dec. 31. Blytheville native Robin Myers then will take over as the college's third president.
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Title Annotation:List Overview
Comment:Community colleges, branch campuses grow in popularity.(List Overview)
Author:Taulbee, Chip
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Aug 9, 2004
Previous Article:Harding offers state's only major in salesmanship.
Next Article:Arkansas business list: Arkansas colleges & universities.

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