BENTONVILLE -- Three candidates are running for a spot on the Northwest Arkansas Community College's Board of Trustees. Incumbent Mark Scott, Julia Gregory and Gregory Swango are competing to represent Zone 6, which encompasses the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, Cave Springs and west Rogers.
Nine trustees sit on the board. Board members are elected for six-year terms.
"However, with the 2020 census comes redistricting. Therefore, before the 2022 election the zones will be redistricted to reflect the current population distribution," according to Grant Hodges, director of community and government elations and marketing at NWACC. "Every Board seat will then be up for election in 2022. After those trustees are seated, they will draw for two, four, and six year terms to begin the staggered elections again."
The position is nonpartisan and unpaid. The election is Nov. 3.
The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette emailed the same questions to the candidates. Their responses are below.
QUESTION: Why should you be on the Board of Trustees? What will be your goals if chosen?
MARK SCOTT: I was appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2016 to serve on the NWACC Board of Trustees and was elected to the position later that year. I appreciate the confidence Governor Hutchinson and the voters have shown in me, and I believe great things have happened at the college during my first term.
During the past four years, I've worked to be a good steward of taxpayer money, keep enrollment costs and tuition affordable and improve access to education. As a community college, we should continue to meet the needs of our community, through training students to work in needed jobs in our community – from health care to law enforcement to construction technology and all points in between – while continuing to provide the best access and learning experience for students through affordability and quality.
One of the best things the college has done is to implement and expand its Early College Experience program for high school students, allowing them to earn college credit while in high school.
I would continue to encourage the expansion of that program, while advocating for student success through affordable tuition costs, recruitment and retention programs, and student services through counseling, tutoring, and job placement programs.
JULIA GREGORY: I care deeply about Northwest Arkansas, and I believe access to education is a crucial way to strengthen our community and improve the lives of all who live here.
I want to bring my knowledge, energy, and expertise to NWACC to influence positive change in our community. If elected to be on the board, my primary goals will be to remove barriers to student success and increase access to education for members of our community.
I want NWACC to continue in its strategic goals to develop, expand and enhance collaborative partnerships with local K-12 schools and universities. I want to seek to enhance partnerships with and provide support to local businesses, industry and the general public by offering innovative approaches to curriculum, training and other relevant services.
I want to strengthen quality programs and processes which support student achievement and success. I want NWACC to provide an open and transparent environment where students, staff, faculty and alumni feel welcome, safe, valued, connected and informed.
I want the board to be effective and ethical stewards of taxpayer dollars by maximizing resources and containing costs to allow affordable tuition rates for our students.
GREGORY SWANGO: This is a good question and one that I have asked myself many times before making the decision to commit to pursue a seat on the NWACC Board of Trustees representing my constituency in Zone 6 of Benton County.
Having served the college since 2002, both as a faculty member and in a variety of other responsibilities over the course of my rewarding career at NWACC, I have experienced much growth and many changes.
I am a proponent of change where change is warranted and to me the status quo is a position that should constantly be reviewed and monitored in order to successfully evolve going forward.
I have witnessed the change in how our academic environment has gone from traditional to virtual and how our students have grown from paper and pencil to the internet and touch screens.
My primary goal will be to not slow or divert the evolution of our educational process, but to find the best way to harness the "new role" of technology to meet the demand for today's student to learn their own way in an accelerated pace where their needs require this change from the traditional delivery system.
QUESTION: NWACC may not have as much money to work with in the coming years as expected because the covid-19 pandemic has affected enrollment. What should the college's top funding priorities be, and what areas should be on the back burner? Should any projects, departments or staff lose funding?
JULIA GREGORY: The covid-19 pandemic is taking a massive toll on lives and livelihoods around the world, and the effects of this public health crisis are not playing out equitably.
In the face of severe impact on the lives of vulnerable members of our community, NWACC has a greater responsibility, now more than ever, to be more innovative and more responsive to the changing needs of its students.
This will require additional investment, not less, for existing departments and staff. I would be supportive of pursuits like athletic expansion or on-campus housing taking a back burner to allow increased investment in necessary student support services, quality instruction and educational technologies.
I would seek new, emerging, real-time data for what local students need in a post-covid-19 world and would seek to influence NWACC to adapt accordingly.
GREGORY SWANGO: Just like grades must be given as a measure of learning, so must money be monitored to provide for an adequate level of education.
As NWACC reports the fall 2020 semester's 11th day enrollment numbers of 7,583 students taking courses for credit, a decrease of 1,066 students, or 12.33%, from the same point in 2019 of 8,649, we must all take note and adapt accordingly.
First and foremost, I would restrict any and all further infrastructure development. There is currently an exorbitant amount of underutilized classroom and other building spaces throughout the Benton County main campus and including the Washington County campus.
Despite the pandemic, we must address a way to bring the students and the faculty back to campus. Additionally, the proposed projects looking into building and maintaining a dormitory and the expansion into intercollegiate athletics should be halted and indefinitely put on a back burner.
Another area to address is the consolidation of programs within divisions and departments and across the entire college where every program should be reviewed to determine its own financial feasibility as well as how it can functionally best serve the student's needs or possibly be eliminated.
MARK SCOTT: NWACC gets a significant amount of funding through property taxes paid by property owners in the Bentonville and Rogers school districts. That amount has increased each of the past four years because property values have increased and new commercial and residential construction is still happening, and that doesn't appear to be changing.
Additionally, NWACC has earned more funding from the state government through the governor's higher education performance model, which awards more money to colleges that achieve performance goals. The college has done an amazing job hitting those benchmarks and serving our students.
NWACC is on firm financial ground, which is why we should resist the urge to raise tuition on students who already struggle to afford college. I talk to students who are working two or three jobs already just to pay their way through college and support their family.
We shouldn't shift heavy financial burdens onto them.
As for funding changes for specific departments, NWACC in conjunction with the Department of Higher Education monitors the success and vibrance of individual program and often adds needed programs or subtracts dormant ones. Trustees should continue to work with the state and our college leadership to determine those funding factors.
QUESTION: A study completed for the college this year indicated there is sufficient demand to warrant building a dormitory on campus for up to 120 students. Is this an idea the college should pursue?
GREGORY SWANGO: Fundamentally, it would be nice if those students who desired or had a need to live directly on the NWACC campus had those resources available to them, but from a more realistic standpoint, student residential housing at our community college is just not practical.
For one reason, considering the current economic environment, this is not an appropriate time to be investing in additional on campus physical infrastructure.
Secondly, the current social distancing paradigm would only bring additional costs and increased demands on the college's administration not to mention the expanded safety concerns as well as the training and staffing needs that managing a student dormitory would require.
On the other hand, one potential alternative consideration for the college would be to investigate the possible conversion of a portion of the currently unused building space that could, if deemed practical, be repurposed and made available for the opportunity of offering limited on-campus student housing.
MARK SCOTT: While the study shows there is a definite interest in on-campus housing, what stands out from the survey, however, is a majority of students are only willing to pay $500 or less per month to live on campus.
Can NWACC provide quality residence halls that are mutually beneficial to both students and taxpayers for that price, or even the $525 per month suggested by the feasibility study?
That would be an important question to ask before we go any further in the process, along with understanding the additional costs to the college, including additional staff to manage on-campus activities, security, cafeteria operations and other staffing needs.
NWACC has hit the pause button on residence halls, which gives us ample time to ask those questions before major decisions are made.
JULIA GREGORY: This is a significant investment, and the board has been evaluating this idea heavily in recent years.
In light of our current health crisis, what the board has already learned on this topic may now be irrelevant.
This issue will need to be examined with fresh eyes and new predictive models for how building dormitories would impact enrollment and student success. The existing study may no longer be relevant in our new normal.
Anecdotally, I've seen many households and living situations evolve swiftly in recent months, including students abandoning future plans to live on campus.
If elected, I would want the board to seek out updated data and new research to inform the correct course of action, and I would err on the side of caution on this topic.
QUESTION: The college recently decided to launch a cross country program. Do you support NWACC taking this leap into intercollegiate athletics? Please explain.
MARK SCOTT: I voted against adding a cross country program because it diverts money away from educational programs.
We are spending taxpayer dollars to subsidize this program through equipment, fees, staffing and other unforeseen costs, while these taxpayer dollars would be better spent on student success initiatives, maintaining a commitment to keep tuition costs low and other key values of a community college.
The money spent to finance a cross country program could have been used to hire additional math tutors, or counselors or recruiters who help students better their families by finding their way back to college.
I will continue to be a voice on the board that questions spending taxpayer dollars unnecessarily.
JULIA GREGORY: A cross country program is a good way to explore intercollegiate athletics because it is relatively inexpensive compared to other athletic programs.
I have a soft spot in my heart for college athletics; my dad attended college on a basketball scholarship, I grew up playing sports throughout high school and college, and the basketball program at my alma mater was an important part of my undergraduate experience.
It can be something which enhances the sense of community for students, and it can be a reason alumni value and support a college with their dollars.
I am open to the idea of intercollegiate athletic programs at NWACC, but I have concerns about the long-term risks and financial liabilities of such a move at this time.
GREGORY SWANGO: Personally, as a full-time faculty member, I did not support the idea of intercollegiate athletics.
I do not believe that NWACC's mission should include an attempt to support and/or fund any athletics beyond the intramural/club sports offerings which are quite extensive and very active.
The additional cost and the funds needed to develop a competitive athletics program at NWACC would more likely than not fail to be complemented with sufficient offsetting revenues and; therefore, the ultimate financial burden may fall directly upon the district's taxpayer or through student tuition and fee increases.
In my opinion, the college should continue to focus on continued community enrichment through its diverse regional workforce and economic development training across a variety of specialized needs, including trade skill apprenticeships, business and professional training, the Certified Retail Analyst (CRA) program, and the advances in construction technology.
Additionally, complemented by an opportunity to pursue a career in culinary arts, NWACC should concentrate on its learning centered approach for the preparation of our current and future students for their career and higher education goals and not attempt to grow student enrollment through participation in intercollegiate sports and any accompanying athletic recruitment.
Residency: Rogers; has lived in the college’s Zone 6 since 2019.
Employment: Vice president of business insights at Acosta in Rogers.
Education: Certificate in business analytics, Harvard University. Bachelor’s degree in business administration, University of Arizona.
Political Experience: None
Mark Scott (incumbent)
Residency: Rogers; has lived in Zone 6 since 2010.
Employment: Independent communications consultant
Education: Bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science, University of Arkansas.
Political Experience: Currently serves on NWACC Board of Trustees after being appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in July 2016 and elected in November 2016. Previously served as a commissioner on the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery Commission.
Age: 60 April 17, 1960
Residency: Rogers; has lived in Zone 6 since 2010.
Employment: Barista at Starbucks. Retired accounting professor, retired accountant.
Education: Master’s degree in accountancy, Oklahoma State University
Political Experience: None