New NWACC president starts job
Dennis Rittle is in his third week on the job as NorthWest Arkansas Community College's new president.
- He told Axios he likes to work in teams to make the community better and gets the sense that NWA is ripe with talent that doesn't operate in silos.
Why it matters: The president is tasked with leading the region's flagship community college that offers an array of degree programs and certifications at a lower cost than traditional universities.
- NWACC plays a particularly important role in NWA's workforce pipeline in fields such as health care, tech and business. It's also home to a culinary school, Brightwater.
- Spokesperson Elizabeth Kapsner confirmed to Axios in February that NWACC intends to expand its Washington County facility that just opened in 2020 to meet the needs of the area, particularly in health care.
- NWACC has added tech programs, such as coding bootcamps and a certificate in cloud computing, to fill the need for tech workers.
The big picture: Rittle sees the school as a place where students can explore without breaking the bank and go on to contribute to the region's workforce. The small-school environment allows people to have relationships with faculty who are experts in their fields rather than teacher's assistants, he told Axios.
What they're saying: Rittle says he's interested in finding areas where the college can offer upskilling opportunities — programs for students who may already be in the workforce, but need to learn a new skill.
- Spokesperson Grant Hodges gave the certified retail analyst and Brightwater's sous chef apprenticeship programs as examples.
Background: Rittle comes to NWA from Arkansas City, Kansas, where he was president of Cowley College, a community college, since 2015. He has worked in education administration since 2007.
- He was a first-generation college student and attended community college himself.
Flashback: Former president Evelyn Jorgenson retired earlier this summer after working in the role since 2013.
- Rittle was one of 53 applicants and will earn a salary of $205,000 — the same as Jorgenson, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
What's next: Rittle wants to find ways to make sure the community knows what NWACC offers and to help change negative perceptions around community college. He'd like to see an economic impact study show what the school's graduates earn and contribute.
- NWACC, like community colleges nationwide, has seen a pandemic-induced drop in enrollment — a 12% decline from fall 2019 to fall 2020 and a 5.6% decrease from spring 2021 to spring 2022.
- "Higher education should be transformative not transactional," Rittle said.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Dennis Rittle has been in education administration since 2007, not that he got his start in the field in 2007.
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