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NPC graduates 505, confers 2nd-highest degrees, certificates

National Park College conferred 788 degrees and certificates to 505 graduates at its May 14 commencement ceremony, held at Bank OZK Arena, marking the second-highest number the college has given out in the past 15 years.

The number includes six new offerings this year: an Associate of Applied Science in Law Enforcement Administration, an Associate of Science in Liberal Arts & Sciences for Dietetics, Philosophy, and Social Studies-History, a Certificate of Proficiency in Computer Science, and a Certificate of Proficiency in Marine Engine Fundamentals.

NPC Vice President for Academic Affairs Wade Derden said he believes the college is seeing success because of a continued effort to cater to students’ interests and needs.

“I think it’s success that we’ve been growing in the last few years,” he said. “In fact, if you go back to 2018, we’ve probably awarded more degrees in the last few years than we have collectively over the decade before.”

Derden noted NPC is doing better in terms of offering students more degree programs they are interested in.

“We’ve expanded our programs and our partnerships with four-year universities, so you can come here and — for lack of a better word — major in a lot of different fields that probably you couldn’t at other community colleges in the state,” he said.

One of the reasons National Park is able to do this, he said, is because of its investment in full-time and terminal-degree faculty, particularly within the STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education, fields. This, he notes, has opened up a lot of degree programs they have been able to offer and made the college more attractive.

Another investment contributing to NPC’s success is that of wraparound services such as athletics, the new student commons, social workers and mental health referrals.

“We partnered with CHI Health to create a health clinic here on campus,” he said. “So I just think we’re very student-focused, trying to create a way for students to be successful. Especially in the midst of COVID — just trying to take students in, wrap our arms around them, and help them be as successful as they can be. Our campus culture’s one of student success for sure.”

Creating those wraparound services to support student success has been especially important throughout the COVID-19 pandemic this year, he said. At times students could not be on campus, but thanks in part to federal grant funds, NPC was able to automate some of its student services programs. This changed the dynamic of how the faculty advised students, he said, noting students are now able to set up meetings with professors and advisers on the school’s website.

“It’s become much more organized, in a sense, and less random drop-in. I think that’s brought some stability to that process and that’s helped students. Another thing that we’ve done, actually, in recent years is trying to automate our degree audit programs so that our registrar and our institutional research team can really identify what degrees and certificates students have achieved,” he said.

The college has a number of degrees in its partnerships in which it has embedded certifications, he said. As students progress toward their associate degree, there are places that are kind of “stop-out points” that have market value for the students. If they, for example, do not earn their associate degree, they may still receive a certificate of proficiency or a technical certificate along the way.

“So it’s not like you’re leaving empty-handed if you don’t achieve the associate degree,” he said. “But sometimes students aren’t aware that they’ve hit some of those marks, and so our automated systems that the registrar can use allow us to double-check.”

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Derden said the automation of these processes is part of the reason the number of degrees and certificates being awarded is going up.

Looking ahead to the next and coming years, he said NPC will focus on trying to provide students with everything they need right there at the college through a very “holistic” approach.

“We’re going to continue to try to focus on bringing four-year degrees to Garland County, whatever that looks like,” he said.

“Whether we’re providing it ourselves or we’re finding someone to partner with; Our community’s spoken to us. We’ve heard it loud and clear.

“Our students have said the same — they want to get bachelor’s degrees here and our community doesn’t want us exporting talent to other areas. If we have a student here who completes an associate degree and then goes to Fayetteville to finish their bachelor’s degree, the likelihood of them coming back and starting a business here or getting a job here is lower,” he said.

“And so, you know, the chamber and metro partnership and other business owners in the community have all asked us to make an effort to try to retain talent in Garland County, and we see that as part of our strategic plan for the future. That’s one of the reasons we’re investing in residence halls and things like that as well.

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