Two-year colleges receive $14.7 million federal funding to improve graduation, job placement rates

BENTONVILLE, Ark. - Officials announced Tuesday the state's two-year colleges have received a $14.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to restructure higher education and target training to meet specific industry needs, strengthen technology-enabled learning, and allow students and workers more flexibility in scheduling classes.

"The project's goal is to accelerate certificate and degree completions by 15 percent by restructuring nearly 150 programs over the next three years," said Dr. Ed Franklin, executive director of the Arkansas Association of Two Year Colleges (AATYC).

The Path to Accelerated Completion and Employment (PACE) Initiative will be a collaborative effort between all of the state's 22 two-year colleges to reduce remediation and increase degree production, with Northwest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) leading the consortium. The program is coordinated through AATYC in partnership with the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE), all of which worked together to receive the grant funding.
Support for development of the initiative was provided by Complete College America and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

"This is a tremendous day for NWACC and all two-year colleges in Arkansas," Dr. Becky Paneitz, NWACC president, said, "and more specifically for the students we serve. They will benefit from a program specifically designed to break down barriers they may have toward receiving the degrees or training they need to perform jobs in our state's largest career-growth areas."

Top education and government officials have clearly defined goals to change remedial education, increase retention and double the number of degree holders in the state by 2025.

"By redesigning classes and schedules to help working students balance jobs and college," said Shane Broadway, ADHE interim director, "we hope to significantly boost student success and dramatically increase the number of college graduates in the state. These dollars will enable our two-year colleges, employers and other economic development partners to create a workforce that is prepared for careers in high-wage, high-skills fields such as advanced manufacturing and health care."

Specific strategies for redesigning 42 associate's degree and 104 certificate programs include improving developmental education, streamlining certificate and degree pathways, reducing time-to-completion and credit-to-completion, enhancing support technology and systems, and overhauling student advisement to increase job placement.

"Baxter Regional Medical Center and ASU Mountain Home have been partners in training for many years," said Ron Peterson, CEO of Baxter Regional Medical Center, "and we look forward to this exciting new opportunity to fulfill the healthcare workforce needs in our community."

As part of the grant process, higher education officials reached out to business and industry to ensure jobs would be available to workers who completed training at the state's two-year colleges. Industry partners include North Arkansas Regional Medical Center, L'Oreal USA, Caterpillar, Wabash Wood Products, Eaton Corporation-El Dorado Chemical; Superior Industries International Arkansas, Firestone Building Products, Pace Industries, Baxter Regional Medical, Baptist Health, Tyson Foods Inc., CertainTeed Gypsum, South Mississippi County Hospital, Great River Medical Center and Arkansas Children's Hospital.

Representatives of the Congressional delegation were on hand for the announcement, along with several other local government leaders.


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