BY LEANN DILBECK –
RMCC President Phillip Wilson has confirmed to The Pulse that he and the RMCC Board of Trustees are in discussions with U of A Chancellor Dr. Don Bobbitt on RMCC becoming a member of the U of A system. Community colleges coming under University umbrellas is a trend that has been seen in post secondary education for the last several years but one that Wilson believes helps secure RMCC’s future.
“To be given a conversation opportunity with the UA System speaks volumes to the stability of RMCC and the great things that are occurring with our students, faculty and staff,” said Wilson. “I can assure you that a phone call would not have happened had our Board of Trustees not been stable or functional.”
President Wilson explained that while the conversations specifically regarding RMCC are relatively new, the ground began being laid years ago. “It actually began in a parking lot over a casual conversation with a governmental affairs employee of the University of Arkansas System. I was asked if RMCC would ever entertain the idea of joining. I said that I did not know, but that it would be worthy of future conversation… that conversation came nearly five years later when I received a call in early December 2015.”
Being a member of the UA System will “certainly bring a new level of prestige and security,” Wilson said, but more importantly, he explained that it ensured RMCC’s future. “I believe that if we become a member of the system, our community will be able to maintain its college presence for the long haul. As we saw with the public schools and school consolidation… size is a huge concern.” Wilson confirmed that RMCC is the smallest community college in the state. “I would not be doing my job if I was not looking out for our future’s best interest. Being under the umbrella of the UA gives us protection, and protection means our long-term future.”
As with any merger, there will be financial efficiencies, both long and short term. Currently, there are 5 other community colleges and 5 universities in the UA System. Wilson said with such an association, institutions are able to leverage their buying power and contract negotiations.
Wilson said the phone call from the UA was “intriguing” to he and the local Board of Trustees, who also agree that the integration conversation is certainly worthy of discussions. “We have spent a tremendous amount of time evaluating advantages and disadvantages. It is clear, at this point, the advantages outweigh any disadvantages. I am confident that if the RMCC Board chooses to pursue this merger, it will be based on a clear path of advantages and that is solely focused on the long-term best interests of our fine institution.”
Wilson commended RMCC Board of Trustees as visionaries that serve with the best interest of RMCC and the community at heart. “I would put the RMCC Board of Trustees against any board or commission in the State. They are wonderful people doing great things for RMCC and their community. They have a keen understanding of the special challenges that exist in Arkansas community colleges and the uniqueness of being the smallest in the state.” Under the UA umbrella, Wilson would report to Dr. Bobbitt (President of the UA System), who reports to the UA Board of Trustees. The local Board of Trustees would become a Board of Visitors who will be “his eyes and ears for all things locally.”
Students are at the core of all decisions made and how such an alignment would impact them is at the forefront of Wilson’s and the Trustees’ minds. “RMCC will not lose its identity. We will still be our community’s community college. Practically, every decision will still be locally based.” Wilson continued by saying that scholarships and the Foundation will stay in local control. “Tuition rates will always have the Board of Visitors and my fingerprint. RMCC will continue to be an outstanding, low-cost tuition college.” He went on to say, “Our students will now have a diploma that will have the words ‘University of Arkansas’ on it. Those words are special and carry weight. We also believe that this gives us an opportunity to develop a University Center on our campus for partnership with the UA System Universities, like UA Fort Smith and UA Fayetteville.”
Wilson reiterated that nothing is official at this point but that conversations are progressing well. “In any business, you must continue to evaluate any and all relationships with stakeholders, present or future. I have watched closely the conversations that have occurred in the hall of the Capital over the past 5 years and each year, the conversation about college and university alignment and system integration has steadily gotten louder. Frankly speaking, from the UA System’s perspective, we would be an outstanding addition to their system.”