The Alice L. Walton School of Medicine received approval for "institutional planning and development" Friday from the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
The Coordinating Board authorized the medical school to plan and develop a location in Bentonville to offer a specified doctor of medicine degree.
The certification for institutional planning and development is for a period of three years through Dec. 31, 2026, which requires the Alice L. Walton School of Medicine to submit an application for initial program certification no later than Nov. 1, 2025, and to obtain initial program certification from the Coordinating Board prior to enrolling students in a degree program.
The next step for the school, founded in 2021 and fully funded by Walton and her foundation, will be to seek accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, which could happen as soon as next month, said Walter Harris, who oversees health care initiatives for Art and Wellness Enterprises, which supports organizations founded by Walton, including the Alice L. Walton School of Medicine.
If the school receives the approvals and accreditations it needs in a timely fashion, the goal is to begin recruiting students in the spring of 2025, and "we hope to matriculate students" that fall.
The school already has a board of directors and is in the process of hiring a dean, as well as recruiting faculty and administrative staff, he said. The goal is to have half of students from Arkansas and half from out of state.
Another goal is to keep graduates -- whether they be Arkansans or from other states -- in Arkansas to practice, as the state needs medical professionals, he said.
"It's hard to give a good number" in terms of enrollment goals at this early date, he said, but "we believe there will be a lot of interest" because there are too few medical schools in the U.S. for the number of students interested in attending.
The Walton school aims to expand access for students and "complement what is already in the state," he said.
For example, discussions have already started with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences -- part of the University of Arkansas System -- on possible partnerships.
Plans for the Alice L. Walton School of Medicine were unanimously approved by the Bentonville Planning Commission on Jan. 17. The 13.8-acre site is at 1001 N.E. J St. in Bentonville.
The Alice L. Walton School of Medicine will offer a four-year, medical degree-granting program that integrates conventional medicine with holistic principles and self-care practices, according to its website.
Construction is expected to start this spring, according to the school website.
Alice L. Walton, now 73 years old, is a philanthropist. She is the youngest of four children born to the late Helen Walton and the late Walmart founder Sam Walton. Alice L. Walton founded the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville and played a major leadership role in what became the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. The airport's terminal is named after her.