March 28, 2023

New NWACC president Dennis Rittle needs to lift school’s profile

Dennis Rittle mentioned getting employed as president at NorthWest Arkansas Neighborhood Faculty is one in every of his life’s nice moments. In a latest interview at Burns Corridor on the Bentonville school campus, he recalled the cellphone name vividly.

“I used to be sitting peaceably in my den,” he mentioned. “The faculty had employed the Affiliation of Neighborhood Faculty Trustees, the ACCT, as their search agency, and it was Kennon Briggs who referred to as. We didn’t know what the choice was, simply that [the finalists] would get a name.

“Exterior of the beginning of my youngsters and my marriage and different private occasions, it was the best second of my life. It was probably the most satisfying second of my skilled profession, little question about it.”

That cellphone name was this previous spring, and Rittle started the job as NWACC’s fourth president on July 11. Rittle, a Pennsylvania native, a former pastor and the primary in his household to attend school, changed Evelyn Jorgenson, who retired after the 2021-22 educational 12 months. She had been president since 2013.

Rittle, 52, mentioned he’s excited to start out planning the place he needs the state’s largest two-year school to be within the subsequent a number of years. His objectives embody prioritizing the school’s educational packages, rising funding and stabilizing enrollment.

“Dr. Rittle has hit the bottom operating, and I imagine NWACC and Northwest Arkansas can be enhanced by his management,” mentioned Ron Branscum, NWACC’s board chairman, who was on the search committee for a brand new president.

Rittle comes from Cowley Neighborhood Faculty, a two-year college in Arkansas Metropolis, Kan., with about 3,800 college students. He had been the college’s president since 2015.

Earlier than that, he spent three years in Arkansas as provost and government vp of studying of Ozarka Faculty (Izard County) in Melbourne. That’s the place his curiosity in NWACC started.

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“My spouse and I liked Arkansas, and if there was ever a chance at NWACC, we have been going to pursue it,” he mentioned. “My spouse is from Kansas, and [Cowley] was an excellent match for me at the moment in my profession. It’s not as massive as NWACC however simply as diversified with its operations. It was an incredible place, but when NWACC ever opened it, I used to be going to use. When it did, we have been all in.”

Rittle has labored part-time or full-time in larger training since 1995 and is a extremely embellished veteran. He served 15 years (1988-2003) in the USA Air Pressure and the Air Nationwide Guard, each stateside and overseas, throughout peacetime and conflict.

He labored on the world’s most technologically superior army climate station throughout his service. He earned two two-year levels in instructing and meteorology, then a grasp’s, adopted by a Ph.D. in organizational management from Regent College Faculty of Enterprise & Management.

He has accomplished 5 levels, together with a postdoctoral program in training administration from Harvard College, and is pursuing an MBA from the College of Kansas.

Rittle additionally spent eight years (2000-2007) as a bi-vocational pastor in Pennsylvania.

He mentioned the itch for training goes again to his highschool years in Lebanon, Pa. A multisport athlete, he spent evenings volunteering at a neighborhood YMCA to show math and science to grownup learners finishing their GED.

“That gave me a number of satisfaction,” he recalled. “I get a lot satisfaction over watching anyone enhance their station in life. For me, there isn’t any higher pleasure.”

Rittle has served on quite a few state and nationwide boards, councils and committees, together with as president of the Kansas Neighborhood Faculty Council of Presidents and as a board member of the Arkansas Affiliation of Two-Yr Schools.

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Rittle mentioned enrollment is the primary matter mentioned in every cupboard assembly he’s convened at NWACC.

“We need to get again to the place we have been pre-pandemic,” he mentioned. “And largely, we’ve got began to do this. However we aren’t there but.”

In October, NWACC reported a fall enrollment of seven,593 college students, up almost 8% from final 12 months. The autumn 2021 enrollment was 7,037 college students, a lower of 5% from fall 2020.

Like Rittle, Branscum mentioned enrollment can also be an important matter for the board.

“To get that quantity swinging again in a constructive route is essential,” Branscum mentioned. “We’ve seen a declining pattern over the previous three years, and COVID impacted that. With the realm’s development, I really feel there ought to be annual development for the college. That may be a pure impact of the expansion we’re experiencing.”

Rittle mentioned he needs NWACC’s notion to be the school of selection for numerous college students. The faculty affords almost 80 levels and certificates that may result in careers in well being professions, enterprise, culinary, science and the humanities.

“We’ve to view ourselves as providing larger training for a life worth,” Rittle mentioned. “We should guarantee the worth and branding of NWACC are on the market. With 30-plus individuals shifting to the area every day, we should hold our message on the market. We’re right here, we’re an incredible worth, and that is what we contribute to the Northwest Arkansas ecosystem.”

Rittle additionally understands the significance of two particular potentialities for attracting extra college students — on-campus housing choices and including sports activities.

“To me, housing and athletics are connected on the hip,” he mentioned. “After I met with the scholar authorities group, their prime request was extra campus life, and housing is on the tip of their desired record.”

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In 2021, NWACC fielded groups on the Nationwide Junior Faculty Athletic Affiliation (NJCAA) stage for the primary time — males’s and girls’s cross nation.

“The scholars like that we’ve got cross nation,” Rittle mentioned. “Their assertion to me was, ‘We would like extra.’ I don’t get afraid of these conversations. I took it as a problem, and we’ll begin strolling in these areas sooner or later at a time. Typically it may be sure or subsequent 12 months. Typically it may be no, not now, however in two or three years.

“As a pacesetter, I’m snug in all of these areas. We’ve to have a dialog. Assess the fee, but in addition acknowledge the reward. As a result of there are rewards.”

Ritter’s earlier cease at Cowley Faculty had on-campus dormitories and a sturdy athletics program with 13 varsity packages for women and men.

Rittle additionally sees a development alternative at NWACC’s Washington County facility close to Arvest Ballpark in Springdale. The 38,000-square-foot constructing opened in 2020 and homes programs typically training, nursing, well being data administration and emergency medical responder and emergency medical technician. It’s additionally dwelling to the school’s highschool concurrent program.

The constructing is in an space the Springdale Chamber of Commerce has dubbed the Springdale Care Hall. It’s a four-mile stretch of Interstate 49 that features a dozen healthcare-related suppliers, together with Arkansas Youngsters’s, Highlands Oncology, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Defend and the College of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

“That [healthcare] is a energy for us,” Rittle mentioned. “We’ve one of many best nursing campuses within the state and this area. It might be derelict of us if we didn’t get on the market and guarantee we offer high quality training for that [healthcare] workforce.”