OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: Viable alternative

With the uproar over President Joe Biden considering that taxpayers pay off our federally guaranteed student loans, I decided to focus on an effective, less-costly alternative to advanced education.

Community colleges like the ever-expanding North Arkansas College here in Harrison serve as a role model for positive futures. Our state’s 22 two-year colleges are a far cry from your grandparents’ community colleges as they have steadily moved into the future.

Citing an enrollment increase of 13.9 percent during the fall semester, NorthArk also recently signed agreements with nearby Springfield universities Drury and Missouri State to accommodate students from their Harrison-area homes in earning their four-year degree locally.

Drury offers two seated classes on campus through the university’s GO program, and offers scholarships for reduced tuition to NorthArk students who enroll in at least three credit hours.

NorthArk’s agreement with Missouri State means the institutions will complete together to develop transfer plans for NorthArk students seeking to their bachelor’s degrees at Missouri State–either online in Harrison, or at the Springfield campus.

The level of education can be every bit as good as four-year institutions. For example, NorthArk’s 30-credit, one-year online certificate in accounting in December was ranked best across the nation by zdnet.com.

The NorthArk campus has steadily evolved from a commuter college into a destination campus, as evidenced by the new Pioneer Villas, a 64-bed residence hall scheduled to open in August.

Outdoor classrooms also are under construction on the north and south campuses. The art studio is doubling in size to 1,175 square feet, along with an outdoor space for plein air painting and remodeled art classrooms.

Combine these changes with new academic programs in environmental science, data science, broadcasting, cybersecurity and a bridge from registered nurse to emergency medical technician.

Yet another advantage to attending community college is its focus on workforce training in cooperation with local industries. Students can participate in an assortment of local internships and apprenticeships through partnerships with key local businesses and industries.

Student Support Services at NorthArk now offers free medical and mental health support through either phone or televisits. Intramural volleyball, soccer and eSports were also added to the curriculum in the last year, along with a summer environmental science workshop for high school teachers and students on the nearby Buffalo River.

In total, NorthArk also offers a choice between four innovative methods of instruction that include 100 percent online where students have no designated meeting times and need not come to campus. They can choose to meet online in a virtual classroom on designated days and times. A hybrid choice also enables a student to select from a blend of in-person and online experiences and the traditional face-to-face classes at set times on campus

Finally, there is a face-to-face and site-to-site choice. In-person classes obviously take place on campus during set times, while site-to-site means a synchronous course delivered from one NorthArk campus to a satellite campus or partnering site.

Workforce courses that often lead to comfortable and potentially lucrative blue-collar careers have been enhanced by the addition of new truck-driving and HVAC simulators along with several high-tech versions in the college’s widely respected Sim Center health-care education program, which includes simulator mannequins called SimMom, SimBaby, SimMan 3G and Sim Junior.

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