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Technical advances: Pulaski Technical College improving image of two-year institutions.

THE TERM "VO-TECH" brings to mind images of young, lanky men in coveralls learning the ins and outs of auto transmission repair.

North Little Rock's Pulaski Technical College is making great strides to dispel this impression.

Changing the school's name was only the beginning.

The former Pulaski Vocational Technical School adopted its new appellation on July 1, 1991, as a result of Act 1244 of the 78th Arkansas General Assembly, which established the Arkansas Technical and Community College System.

Administered by the state Board of Higher Education, Pulaski and 12 other Arkansas vo-tech schools took a giant step toward improved recognition with the move, which allows the institutions to provide associate of applied science degrees as well as college credits.

The next step is accreditation, a six-year process that will eventually lead to Pulaski's acceptance as a true "college," capable of providing college credit through its own faculty.

The school currently has 37 faculty members, not including the University of Arkansas at Little Rock instructors who teach some of the 25 vocational and occupational course programs offered by Pulaski.

"We're in the process now of preparing for an accreditation visit" by the North Central Association -- Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, a nationally recognized accreditation program, says Ben Wyatt, Pulaski Technical College president. A member of the school's faculty since 1970, Wyatt says a team will evaluate the college in March, then will make its recommendation to North Central's executive staff.

Wyatt expects to know the evaluation results by June, with full accreditation coming as early as 1997.

"If we receive candidacy status, then we will be eligible |to offer full college credit hours~," says Wyatt, who was named school president after becoming the vo-tech's director in 1980.

More than the name of the school has changed since it was established in 1945 to help World War II veterans adjust to life as civilians. The first practical nursing program in Arkansas was initiated at Pulaski in 1948, with the addition of a construction apprentice program the next year.

The school moved from its Little Rock location in 1976 to North Little Rock, eventually taking up 100,000 SF of land and offering a wide variety of instructional courses.

A quick glance at the college's most recent catalog suggests ample evidence of how far the institution has come in almost 50 years. Courses such as Introduction to Air Conditioning and Refrigeration and Automotive Brake Systems are listed side by side with such technical rigors as Data Base Programming and Aircraft Communication and Navigations Systems.

As the school has progressed and expanded, so has its student population. Now enrolled at Pulaski are 972 students paying $28 a credit hour compared to the $20 an hour paid when the school was a vo-tech.

Only 10 percent of the students are enrolling fresh from high school, with the average age of the Pulaski student being 28, according to Jim Orintas, the school's director of student services.

"Which means we're seeing more non-traditional students returning to school, working people with family responsibilities," Wyatt says. "They want to educate themselves, to better themselves ... A lot of them are laid off, seeking better skills. Retraining is a big deal."

Almost half of the enrollment is between the ages of 25-44, 40 percent of which are female students.

"The college-level courses are one reason we're seeing more women |attending Pulaski~," says Wyatt. "They're brushing up on computers, accounting ... to upgrade their skills to be more promotable in their fields."

A shift in the school's educational emphasis, from a total technical standpoint to one more academic, will become more evident as general education and developmental studies courses become more ingrained in the curriculum.

"Ideally, a student desiring a bachelor's degree could take his first two years here and then transfer to UALR," Wyatt says. "As this institution develops, UALR would receive a stronger student body."

"I'm really impressed with the school and the potential service it can render this area," says Lyndell Lay, chief executive officer of North Little Rock's Charter Mortgage and Investments Inc. and the secretary of Pulaski Technical College's board of trustees. Lay was one of eight area businessmen and businesswomen appointed to the board in 1991 by then-Gov. Bill Clinton.

"The first order of business is getting the school through the accreditation process ... We've got a way to go toward accreditation, but it's a great investment and a great thing to have in our community.

"The more education people gain, the better their earnings and the better the economic conditions."

Arkansas has 10 technical colleges besides Pulaski: Black River TC in Pocahontas, Ozarka TC in Melbourne, Gateway TC in Batesville, Petit Jean TC in Morrilton, Mid-South TC in West Memphis, Pines TC in Pine Bluff, Ouachita TC in Malvern, Red River TC in Hope, Cossatot TC in DeQueen and Mountain Home TC, an off-campus center for Arkansas State University in Mountain Home.

Three other technical colleges have merged with other two-year institutions since the 1991 transition.

John McKay, the state Board of Higher Education's deputy director for technical education, is among the state officials overseeing the progress of the schools as they reach out to aid their respective communities.

"As far as the vo-techs go, |Pulaski~ has a wider variety of programs than most of the schools," McKay says. "All of the technical colleges have a community college or a university that are offering college-level courses on their campus.

"These are serving two purposes: one, freshman-sophomore level courses that will transfer to a senior institution and, secondly, they are serving as general education components of some programs on that campus today."

Pulaski, like the other technical colleges, is countering its vocational training with varying degrees of academic preparation in hopes of better training students for the swiftly changing world of business.

"What we're trying to do with the technical program is move the students strictly from application to where they understand theory and application," McKay says. "Because jobs are changing and industry is demanding that they want people who are multi-skilled, that can handle more than one task -- people who can think, who can solve problems, who can communicate and operate in a team environment.

"It's much more of an incorporation of using your brain with your hands than just your hands."
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Author:Taylor, Tim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jan 18, 1993
Words:1047
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