National Park College (NPC) broke ground on two new science labs Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. The NPC Board of Trustees approved the project in December.
The addition to the Lab Sciences building will expand both the first and second floor of the building’s west side. The bottom floor will house a new physics and engineering lab. The top floor will include a new chemistry lab. The labs will allow NPC to offer upper-level courses in organic chemistry, biochemistry, and physics as part of a four-year degree partnership with Southern Arkansas University that was approved one year ago this week.
The NPC Board of Trustees met with representatives from SAU earlier in the day. NPC President, Dr. John Hogan said the continued focus on bachelor’s degrees is all about increasing degree attainment in Garland County. Arkansas is 49th in degree attainment nationally, with only 22 percent of residents having a bachelor’s degree. The national mean is 30.9 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In Garland County, only 20.1 percent of residents hold a bachelor’s degree.
The BLS reports bachelor’s degree holders earn 40 percent more annually than those with associate degrees. Hogan said closing the gap in degree attainment would mean millions more in income and tax revenue for Garland County citizens. “If we close the gap to meet the Arkansas mean, we could generate an additional $32,734,832 in annual income for Garland County residents. That would correspond to additional funds spent here in the county and taxes paid. If we close the gap to meet the national mean, that calculates to an additional $186,034,784.”
Social Sciences and Math Science Division Chair Dr. Charles Argo said, “All of this is for our students. I see them every day in class and out of class, working hard to balance family, jobs and school. I hear the exasperation in their voices when they want to do more and go further to expand their options in life, but are place bound here because of circumstance. These opportunities can be life-changing for our students. A good degree in an employable field doesn’t alter the trajectory of just one person, it does so for entire families, over the course of generations.”
Students also provided testimonials regarding their experience in the programs so far. Computer Science major Ian Raines said, “This is my first year. I have already experienced amazing things on the National Park campus. I have experienced passionate teachers, excellent academics, a growing and diverse campus with so many people from all different walks of life and all different ages.”
Biology major Summer Holt is a zookeeper. She commutes to Little Rock and said when she heard about the program she applied the same night. “I love the small classroom settings NPC offers, and I will be most set to succeed with my degree plan because of the support system we have here on campus.”
Nontraditional veteran student and Biology major Holly Blankenship shared why completing her degree close to home is important for her. “That is what is so valuable to me, is that I stay present in my children’s lives, even though my goals and ambitions are so important. They are the reason for all of this.”
SAU President, Dr. Trey Berry said, “When John Hogan approached us a little over 18 months ago about a possibility of us working together to bring four-year degrees to Hot Springs, we were immediately intrigued. Fast forward 18 months later and here we are, through a lot of work from a lot of people. He said the entire effort was all about the students and providing access to opportunities. “At the end of the day, students, this is about you. This day is about you.”
Biochemistry major and veteran nontraditional student Cory Morris spoke at the groundbreaking event. “I will be among the first students that will be awarded a bachelor’s degree at National Park College in Biochemistry in 2023. I will be able to take this degree anywhere that I want to go for my postgraduate program.”
Morris shared the symbolic nature of the construction taking place. “The reason we are gathered here today is actually to break ground on construction of this very essential component for this partnership to go forward. The foundation that will be laid on this spot is going to be the foundation of our future, for myself and other students you have heard from today and others that are already taking advantage of this,” he said. “I know that the skills and certifications that we will now have access to here will become the backbone of our progress and the fulfillment of our greatest potential.”
The project was designed by Lewis Architects Engineers and Hill and Cox Corporation has already started preparing the site for construction. The total cost of the project is estimated at $2.1 million and is scheduled for completion by fall 2020.