Turn on the news, grab a newspaper, or do a Google search, and you’ll have no problem finding research and commentary regarding the increasing costs of higher education and questions about the value of that education relative to the debt students incur.
Some will caution that these are legitimate concerns. And when Saline County students return to school for the Fall 2021 semester, many will receive opportunities to continue their educations and skills training through the new Saline County Career Technical Campus (SCCTC), in partnership with Arkansas State University (ASU) Three Rivers.
“It’s an incredible investment the county has made,” said ASU Three Rivers Chancellor Steve Rook. “The campus sits on a 27-acre site, with 22 of those [acres] developed to include a 134,000 square foot facility. That’s the equivalent of three football fields of conditioned space.”
Funded by a countywide tax approved by voters in 2018, the SCCTC carries a price tag of $44 million. This includes land, construction and the educational technology needed to give all students a chance to prepare for the 21st-century workforce when they arrive on campus in mid-August.
“We’re going to have our doors open to all students who have interest,” said Scott Kuttenkuler, Assistant Vice Chancellor for SCCTC. “We’ll have some students who are going to take the traditional college path, and that’s great. We’re also going to work with students who didn’t think they would even finish high school, and that’s incredible.
“We’re currently looking at kids from six high schools, approximately 524 students in total,” Kuttenkuler added. “This is generational change for these students. It’s going to change the ability for their families to grow and prosper, and it’s something we hope will have positive impacts for years to come.”
Kuttenkuler says SCCTC will offer 10 courses of study, ranging from cyber security and industrial maintenance to welding and automotive. “There was a tremendous dialogue in choosing the programs we’d be offering through the Technical Campus,” he said. “I think the selections that were ultimately made were for those professions that will be around and will have a need for workers in the future.”
Partnering with the SCCTC is ASU Three Rivers, based in nearby Malvern. The campus has been in existence for more than 50 years, serving first as a vocational school, then expanding to a technical college. After years of discussion, the school joined the Arkansas State University System last year, something Chancellor Steve Rook believes only makes his students and their opportunities better.
“I believe there is strength in numbers,” he said. “By gaining access with a central office, we’re provided with services we otherwise wouldn’t have. Also, considering Henderson State has come on board with the ASU System, it gives our students options for other institutions where they can continue their education.”
Today, Chancellor Rook says ASU Three Rivers carries a 50/50 split between transferable degree offerings, and technical programs and certificates for the workforce. In the 2018-19 school year, the College awarded more than 650 different awards, degrees and certificates.
“We offer an associate of arts degree, which is our traditional transfer degree,” he said. “That includes the first 60 hours of almost any four-year degree in the state of Arkansas. In total, we have about 300 students enrolled in our transfer program.”
Among its course offerings, ASU Three Rivers’ largest program is in nursing. With 100 students accepted into the practical nursing program and another 100 enrolled in the registered nursing program annually, Chancellor Rook sees tremendous opportunity for those looking to enter the healthcare sector.
“Last fall, we had 135 applicants for 50 slots,” he said. “As many nurses as we are graduating annually, there is still a tremendous demand for this field, and it only seems to be increasing. These are highly transferable positions, which can go almost anywhere in the country, not just in Arkansas. There are jobs everywhere because of the consistent demand.”
Chancellor Rook and Scott Kuttenkuler agree the need for skilled and talented workers in Central Arkansas presents a chance for ASU Three Rivers and SCCTC to continue growing to meet that demand.
“This is an incredible opportunity for us and for these students in Saline County,” Chancellor Rook said. “We look forward to building relationships within the industries and looking for opportunities where we can grow once things start.”
“Our mission is to train Saline County kids for Saline County jobs,” Kuttenkuler said. “That way, these students will consider staying and strengthening Saline County and its workforce.”
Construction on the Saline County Career Technical Campus is scheduled to wrap up in late June, with students slated to arrive and begin working August 16.
ASU Three Rivers will be hosting its Foundation Golf Tournament on May 24 at Malvern Country Club. For more information on that event and on course offerings through the school, go to www.asutr.edu.