Earning a degree just got a whole lot easier and closer to home with the opening of Ozarka College's new Ash Flat campus.
Crews recently completed the 16,000-square-foot building near the Ash Flat Ball Park and the Fulton/Sharp County line, and it is now open for classes.
"The Ash Flat campus is important to the communities of Sharp and Fulton counties because it makes education accessible to more people which in turn helps the economic future of the area," said Kim Whitten public relations specialist with the college.
The new $1.4 million campus is located on College Drive on a 30-acre tract of land that was donated to the college in March 2002 by First National Banking Company and Bob Watson.
The building serves as the new Sharp County campus. Before the recent opening, the school had been holding classes at Remington Plaza since August 2001, said Jim Fenton, development director.
The new building includes three classrooms, a science lab, two interactive video rooms, a computer lab, a conference room, a bookstore, a work room, additional office space and a 146-seat lecture hall.
Of the 950 students who attend classes at one of the three Ozarka campuses -- Melbourne, Mountain View and Ash Flat -- approximately 200 students enroll at the Ash Flat campus during the fall and spring semesters. During the summer semesters the college enrolls approximately 225 students, Whitten said.
Students range in age from 16 to 80, but the average age is around 25, Whitten said.
Fenton said he expects the enrollment at the Ash Flat campus to grow substantially in the next few years and the new building will contribute to that growth.
"We'll grow. We'll grow a lot," Fenton said.
One of the primary ways the campus is expected to grow is through the use of distance learning which allows for Web-based, interactive video and telecourse classes for students.
With the use of digital compressed video equipment students in Melbourne, Ash Flat and Mountain View can participate in courses taught in any of the three campuses. The interactive equipment allows students at one campus to view their instructor and the class at another campus.
"The interactive video rooms are invaluable," Fenton said. "It allows more students to take courses and not have to travel to do so."
"To be cost-effective we need 10 to 12 students to sign up to make a class," he said. "By having the interactive classes those 10-12 students don't have to be from just one campus. They can be spread out."
Although new technology abounds in the interactive labs, it is also present in each of the other new rooms.
The lecture hall is equipped with the latest technology, including that used for PowerPoint presentations, movie viewing and internet access for each seat, Fenton said.
"This is the state-of-the-art, highest technology we can get right now," Fenton said.
That technology extends into the computer lab with 24 brand new computers. Instructors are equipped with state-of-the-art computers and an electronic projection screen in each classroom as well.
"They're a lot faster than the ones we used to have," Fenton said.
The science lab is one of the most treasured assets of the college. The lab is not only equipped with standard science lab materials, but also has a contained area with a vent for chemical experiments without the often unpleasant smells. The lab was paid for by the college's $100,000 capital campaign funded by private donations.
The college pledged funds received from tuition to repay the $1.4 million in bonds issued for the construction costs, said Vice President of Finance Gayle Cooper. The majority of the repayment of the bonds will come from Ash Flat, Cooper said. The city of Ash Flat passed a 3/8-cent sales tax in August 2002 to help pay for the construction and ongoing maintenance of the building.
Fenton said 1/4 of the tax will be used to pay off the construction bonds and 1/8 will be used for maintenance and operations. The tax generates approximately $120,000 a year.
Ozarka College has continued to grow since it first opened its Melbourne campus in 1975 offering a handful of degree programs. The first class of 43 students graduated in July 1976.
Since that time, Ozarka College has changed in many ways.
In 1991 the Arkansas Legislature passed an act transforming Ozarka and other vocational schools into technical colleges. The school changed its name from Ozarka Vocational Technical School to Ozarka Technical College.
In 1999 the school changed its name again to Ozarka College to emphasize the full range of study.
Today the school offers associate's degrees in information science technology, culinary arts, business technology, automotive service technology, licensed practical nursing, health information management and teaching. It also offers an associate of arts transfer degree. It is one of Izard County's largest employers.
As the programs Ozarka offered were expanded, the need for additional campuses increased. In 1997 the college opened its Stone County Education Center in Mountain View and a few years later the Ash Flat campus opened.