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story.lead_photo.caption Submitted photo STUDENT COMMONS: An artist rendering of the new student commons building at National Park College.

The new student commons building at National Park College is a celebration of student success, the college's president said Wednesday.

A public groundbreaking ceremony for the building will be held at 1:30 p.m. Friday in the parking lot beside the Liberal Arts building. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, state Sen. Bill Sample, R-District 14, state Rep. Les Warren, R-District 25, and board of trustees President Forrest Spicher will address the crowd.

"You've heard a lot about Phase One," Hogan told the board of trustees. "All of that is about student success. I think the student commons is a monument to our passion and our effort to continue to improve on the success of our students and maximize those opportunities. That's exciting and we could talk about it all afternoon."

The 51,000-square-foot building will be the focal point at the end of a new, boulevard type entrance on Mountain Pine Road, he told The Sentinel-Record, with classroom and meeting spaces, food service and administrative offices to make it "a one-stop-shop" for students starting their education at NPC.

"We are very grateful on the part of our community because they see this is their community and this is their college," he said. "The support of our representatives, Sen. (Bill) Sample, the support of our governor, the board and foundation -- that often gets lost in the bricks and mortar of it all. This is more than just a physical change on our campus and we're very fortunate to have what many colleges do not, and that's the community support of our college."

Board member Jim Hale told the trustees Wednesday that the first steps in construction will start taking place in the coming weeks.

"Basically within the month, we ought to be seeing earth being moved, trees being removed, the site being prepped and a lot of work," Hale said. "It's going to be a busy place for the next 16 months. Luckily we have Brad Hopper, one of our superstars here. As always, he has been invaluable in these building projects, so he's going to represent all of us very well because he knows it inside and out.

"There are going to be some significant logistical challenges related to traffic, pedestrian and vehicular, parking. There's going to be some challenges because we're fixing to build a huge building in the middle of our campus. ... But August of '19 it ought to be worth the effort."

The student affairs department at NPC has spent the past year adapting to changes in the recruitment marketplace, according to Jerry Thomas, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management, and Jason Hudnell, dean of enrollment services.

"The good news is that (NPC) is being very nimble and agile, and recognizes what (a recruitment marketplace) looks like and really responding to it to kind of ensure that we're on a continued growth trajectory," Thomas said. "But the marketplace now in terms of recruitment is much, much different than it was five, say even 10 years ago. The landscape has just really, really changed. A lot of that, I think I've said this to this group before ... has to do with the economy itself and once it stabilizes it has a direct impact on college enrollment."

Thomas said enrollment "tends to go down because students kind of prefer the workplace instead of the college classroom," especially among nontraditional-age students age 24 and older.

"This past year we've really boosted our recruiting efforts, our reaching out to counselors in the high schools and making presentations to traditional-age students, and also have really repackaged our scholarships," Thomas said.

"And this upcoming year, we have a partnership with external affairs, with Jeff (Weaver) and his team, where we're going to do a major campaign with those 24 and older students.

"We want to set them on a good track. While we know that low tuition is one of the biggest factors that goes into a student making a decision to come to college, we know that, but also what goes into that decision is having a traditional college experience. That goes into that equation as well. And so, we have really shifted to offer a lot more student engagement activities," he said.

"That could range from having a men's and women's basketball team here on campus or cheerleading here on campus, or an honor's college here on campus. ... All that is intended to diversify the college to put us in a position where we can entice a student who traditionally, probably wouldn't say they want to come here, but they would like to come here now because of that. I think we believe that that really puts us on a positive trajectory for continued growth for the college."

Hudnell said the addition of a student recruiter has helped the student affairs department's efforts.

"In the past, we did not have any one person that their job was solely recruiting," he said. "We had that for the first time this year and I think we've seen a lot of dividends paid, a lot of return on that investment because of a lot of what you see.

"We were able to get 50 high school visits in 15 different high schools, which is a pretty significant amount of time by having that one person be able to get out there and do that. In addition to those, we're in 22 different college and career fairs, presented to 12 different community groups, we had 3,500 -- it's actually probably a little bit more than that -- but we actually tracked down 3,500 text or email communications. And that does not even include any social media interactions, which it would almost be impossible to even track that number."

In the past week, Hudnell said his department sent out 31,044 mail-outs to homes in Garland County. The mail-outs compare the price difference of NPC to the average four-year institution.

"Once you see that yes it makes sense, that you're a whole lot cheaper than that four-year then their next question is 'yeah, but I'm missing out on' fill in the blank," he said. "That's exactly what Dr. Thomas was just talking about there, many of the efforts that we're doing here at the college is now taking that expense away, we've always been cheaper and we've always been a better value for your money in a college education. Now we're providing that experience along with being that value."

The number of new applications since spring of 2017, Hudnell said, has increased from 691 to 898.

"It's more about student success ... it's a continuing investment in student success," Hogan said. "Student-athletes tend to stay in school, they tend to perform better academically, they're more likely to graduate and that's true of many other student activities that we can provide, so I really appreciate that investment in our students. I know we'll be hearing more from them and from some athletic successes. I'm also very pleased with the applications being up and more opportunities to serve students, more participation in postsecondary education.

"There are certain fundamentals to good enrollment management and you're hearing Jerry and Jason, and their team, Jeff and others, build on those fundamentals. Constant communication with students, reminders of what the college has to offer, adding new programs both academic and extracurricular, and just the constant messaging of that helps us build on those good enrollment management fundamentals. It's good where we are and we're doing more than we ever have, and we need to continue to build on that and continue to grow that."

Local on 03/31/2018

Print Headline: NPC to hold groundbreaking on student commons building

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