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HOT SPRINGS (AP) — Being a community college all comes back to what the students and community need, National Park College President John Hogan said recently.

Hogan, speaking to Oaklawn Rotary Club's regular weekly meeting at The Hotel Hot Springs & Spa, updated Rotarians on Phase One of the college's master plan, which is well under way.

"I think the fundamental reason that the college is successful because of the community support that we get," he said to The Sentinel-Record. "My first year here, I probably enjoyed more community support than in the previous 15. It's not that they were against the community college or didn't want to see it successful; it's just that this community invested in the college and wanted to see it successful. When you do that, you get a return and we're enjoying the benefits of that return."

The college has made significant investments in its athletic and academic programs, Hogan said, expanding athletics to include baseball, softball and cross country, as well as investing in more associate degree programs and expanding the nursing program. The new degrees are all part of the National Park University program, he said.

"It's not easy to make that investment and that commitment," he said. "You can look forward to some changes and additions to our academic footprint this coming year. As we've invested in our NPU relationships, those largely entail students having to go to a different place and we're working on how we can keep that talent here in Garland County.

"We're going to be investing in and hopefully launching some additions to the university center and making clear to students what those degree opportunities might be that they can stay here and finish their four-year degrees, hopefully not have to transplant and earn their living here, pay taxes here, and so forth."

The most visible of the college's Phase One projects is the new Student Commons Building, which is on schedule for a ribbon cutting on July 1, Hogan said. The new building will house classroom and conference space, a new bookstore, cafeteria and coffee shop, as well as various student services.

In addition, the college will soon begin building a new Marine Technology Center on its south campus, as well as converting the Gerald Fisher Campus Center to more instructional space.

"We will also be breaking ground on a new residence hall," he said. "The proposed location for the residence hall is adjacent to the Fisher Building right on Mid-America Boulevard, so student parking would be in the main lot on Mid-America.

"We're doing that without using any of our own money," he said. "A vendor is coming in who does this as their business venture and they do it in several places in the country. This will be their first time doing business in Arkansas. They're going to build a 180-bed facility that will be three stories high and have a mix of apartment-style living in there."

Hogan said these are all ways that lend themselves to student success and, in turn, community success.

"A student-athlete has a higher probability of graduating than a non-student-athlete," he said. "That doesn't mean they have to be a student-athlete. Individuals who have the opportunity to live on campus, who aren't hungry and eat nutritious food, the probability that they're going to be successful in their academic endeavors is increased. Those are the investments that we're trying to be very serious about in growing our community and growing the college, and retaining our young people here in Hot Springs."

When asked if NPC was heading in the direction of becoming a four-year institution, Hogan said it was difficult to say for several reasons.

"We aren't going to put any of those political obstacles in front of students so we're actively engaging Arkansas universities on 'How can you help us with this issue of retaining students in our community and providing four-year degrees for place-bound students?' That's our focus right now," he said. "Theoretically, if we do that very well and there's a significant group of students voting with their feet and going into those programs, I think the legislative and accreditation obstacles will kind of take care of themselves.

"I think being a community college to me is 'What does our community need?' If you ask The Carnegie Institute which defines what a university is, they would say two-year, transfer and technical degrees and I'm not really that interested — after 20 years, I'm kind of tired of the conversation. What somebody else thinks a community college should be is inconsequential to what our students need and it doesn't matter who gets the credit or what institution is giving the degree. I think it's our job to keep our nose to the grindstone with respect to what our community needs and what our students need. Eventually, maybe that will occur, but there's a long road for that to happen."

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