The history books will note 2021 as a year of challenges and loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Against the backdrop of that widespread and societal adversity, the people of Arkansas Tech University sustained and enhanced their mission of student access and success over the past 12 months.
Below are 10 stories that reflect a representative, but not exhaustive, list of ATU's achievements during 2021.
A more detailed annual report will be published and made available to ATU constituents in early 2022.
Graduation rates continue to climb
Efforts to provide Arkansas Tech University students with a more efficient and seamless path to degree attainment are reflected in the four-year graduation rate on the Russellville campus and the three-year graduation rate on the Ozark campus.
The four-year graduation rate for first-time freshmen on the Russellville campus increased from 42.96 percent in 2019-20 to 46.8 percent in 2020-21. The three-year graduation rate for ATU-Ozark Campus increased from 33.99 percent in 2019-20 to 38.05 percent in 2020-21. These figures continue a trend from recent years.
"When we began planning for the current iteration of our strategic plan in 2015, the four-year graduation rate on the Arkansas Tech campus in Russellville was 21.3 percent," said Dr. Robin E. Bowen, ATU president. "As a result of the course we mapped for ourselves, your diligent work and the efforts of our students, today our four-year graduation rate stands at 46.8 percent. ATU-Ozark Campus has also experienced significant gains, moving its three-year graduation rate from 27.5 percent in 2017 to 38.1 percent in 2021.
"I do not think any of us could have dreamed we would make so much progress in helping students achieve their academic goals in such a short period of time, but we did," continued Bowen. "We did it through countless acts of dedication, caring, compassion, perseverance and innovation by our faculty, staff and students."
HLC reaffirms accreditation for ATU
Arkansas Tech University received notification from the Higher Learning Commission in spring 2021 that its accreditation is reaffirmed for an additional 10-year period.
The reaffirmation continues an institutional accreditation as a four-year, degree-granting institution of higher learning that Arkansas Tech first attained in 1951 and has maintained ever since.
"This is a wonderful achievement by Arkansas Tech University," said Bowen. "We benefited from great participation and leadership from the ATU Board of Trustees during our reaffirmation of accreditation process, and our faculty and staff have worked diligently to thoroughly review every aspect of our university. This continuation of accreditation is evidence of the good and important work that takes place at Arkansas Tech on a daily basis. We are focused on student access and student success, and this outcome is affirmation that our university has continued to make significant strides in those areas over the past decade. I extend my sincere appreciation and congratulations to all who contributed to this positive outcome."
The next comprehensive HLC review of Arkansas Tech is scheduled for the 2030-31 academic year. ATU will provide HLC with an interim progress report about the continued implementation of its assessment plan by no later than Sept. 30, 2022.
Arkansas Tech achieves increased state funding
Gov. Asa Hutchinson has pledged phased additions to the Arkansas Tech University annual appropriation that will result in a $3.4 million increase to the institution’s base budget by no later than fiscal year 2025.
The action comes after many years of advocacy on behalf of ATU by alumni, community leaders and elected officials, including Sen. Breanne Davis of Russellville and Rep. Dr. Joe Cloud of Russellville.
“We are incredibly grateful for this support from Gov. Hutchinson,” said Bowen. “Sen. Davis has been an absolute warrior for Arkansas Tech and Rep. Cloud has been very helpful as we have told our story and helped raise awareness of the generational funding inequities that ATU has experienced. It is my hope that this significant first step will ultimately lead to more increases and long-term fairness in funding for Arkansas Tech as compared to its peer institutions.”
ATU No. 1 regional public in Arkansas
U.S. News and World Report recognized Arkansas Tech University as the No. 1 choice among regional public universities in the Natural State as part of its 2022 college rankings.
ATU is listed as the No. 1 regional public university in Arkansas for overall quality, best value and service to veteran students.
For its 37th college rankings, U.S. News and World Report assessed factors such as graduation and retention rates, social mobility, faculty resources, survey data concerning academic reputation, average class sizes and graduate indebtedness.
$4.2 million committed to workforce development
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Friday, Dec. 17, that he is committing $4.2 million in funding to a pilot workforce development program that will be overseen by a unit of Arkansas Tech University.
One aspect of the pilot program will allow the Arkansas Tech Institute, a non-formula entity of ATU, to build a career coaching model that will benefit high school students, underemployed workers and employers in the Arkansas River Valley.
An additional utilization of the funding will allow the Arkansas Tech Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management to partner on an initiative to develop and implement an employment ecosystem in the Arkansas River Valley that supports career opportunities for individuals who were previously incarcerated.
The effort will align with the Arkansas Department of Education Ready for Life program, which was introduced by Hutchinson in January 2021 as a means to support Arkansans who want to improve their skills or change careers as well as gather career and employment data from business and industry.
"This pilot will be starting right here in Russellville and include $4.2 million that will go to Arkansas Tech University to oversee this initiative and partnership," said Hutchinson, who announced the pilot program during the Russellville Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting. "This is the first pilot of its kind, and hopefully with the success that will come here we can expand this initiative more."
Workforce education award comes home to ATU-Ozark
Arkansas Tech University-Ozark and Green Bay Packaging, Arkansas Kraft Division received the National Council of Workforce Education Noncredit Exemplary Program Award during the 2021 NCWE Conference in Tucson, Ariz., on Wednesday, Oct. 6.
Bruce Sikes, ATU-Ozark chancellor, and Justin Smith, ATU-Ozark chief business and community outreach officer, accepted the award on behalf of ATU-Ozark Campus and Green Bay Packaging.
“Green Bay Packaging in Morrilton is a valued member of our economy and their service throughout the manufacturing community is without an educational comparison in the State of Arkansas," said Sikes. "Arkansas Tech-Ozark Campus recognizes the commitment of the leadership at Green Bay Packaging to its employees and training opportunities enjoyed by other manufacturers throughout our state. ATU-Ozark is humbled to be a partner with Green Bay Packaging in educating a well-trained manufacturing workforce.”
The award recognizes a collaboration that has provided more than 1,000 employees from more than 60 Arkansas companies with training needed to help drive the state’s economy.
"The training center fills one of the state’s largest workforce and economic skills gaps, which is that of hands-on technical skills," said Smith. "Several maintenance positions go unfilled simply because employers cannot find skilled electrical and mechanical technicians. ATU-Ozark and Green Bay Packaging established this partnership and training center to assist both Green Bay employees and those of other companies, and to keep it very affordable for area industry to send their workers. This accessibility and quality training keep companies coming back year after year.”
ATU donors step up for student access and success
Fund-raising for the benefit of Arkansas Tech University yielded more than $10.5 million in gifts and pledges during the 2020-21 fiscal year.
“The fact that Arkansas Tech University was able to enjoy such a successful fund-raising year in the midst of a global pandemic is evidence of the overall support of the university that exists within the larger ATU community,” said Bowen. “We are grateful for each individual and entity that stepped forward to provide this assistance to our students. Your gifts make a genuine difference in the lives of our students and create significant opportunities for academic and personal growth.”
Arkansas Tech alumni and friends donated and pledged $10,551,640 to the ATU Foundation from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021.
"We are grateful for the Arkansas Tech University alumni and friends who demonstrated their support for the mission and vision of our institution through their financial support in 2020-21," said Jason Geiken, ATU vice president for advancement. “Your gifts and pledges helped us respond to the challenges posed by COVID-19. We are appreciative of your partnership in ensuring student access and student success at Arkansas Tech."
The 2020-21 giving to the ATU Foundation represents a 72 percent increase over just two years ago.
ATU partners with TheDream.US scholarship program
Arkansas Tech University has become the first institution of higher education in Arkansas to partner with TheDream.US, the nation’s largest college access and success program for immigrant youth.
The program provides eligible students with the opportunity to apply for up to $33,000 in scholarships that can be applied to the pursuit of a bachelor's degree.
TheDream.US has provided 6,500 college scholarships to eligible students at more than 70 partner colleges in 16 states and Washington, D.C. Applications are open for students who meet the requirements for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or who came to the country before Nov. 1, 2015, and otherwise meet the DACA eligibility criteria.
“Arkansas Tech University is grateful to have the opportunity to collaborate with TheDream.US," said Bowen. "Student access and success are central to our mission as an institution. This partnership helps the university by further advancing these key efforts. We look forward to joining this community of more than 70 universities and colleges around the nation to create college educational opportunities for Dreamers.”
The 2021-22 scholarship program from TheDream.US includes eligibility for Arkansas immigrant youth, who are eligible to apply following the passage of a state law in 2019 that makes Arkansas students with DACA eligible for in-state tuition rates at Arkansas universities and colleges.
ATU among elite company in voter participation effort
Arkansas Tech University has earned national recognition as a leader in the effort to encourage civic engagement among higher education students.
The National Resource Consortium on Full Student Voter Participation and the Students Learn, Students Vote Coalition selected ATU as a co-designer campus in the Ask Every Student program.
ATU is the only institution in Arkansas that was selected as a co-designer campus and one of just 31 universities in the nation chosen for the honor. Other institutions named Ask Every Student co-designer campuses include Harvard University, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Texas-Austin.
"Providing opportunities for civic engagement is one aspect of the mission statement at Arkansas Tech University," said Dr. Keegan Nichols, ATU vice president for student affairs. "By serving at the forefront of programs such as Ask Every Student we help our students develop lifelong habits of voting and actively participating in the communities in which they will live and lead following graduation."
ATU celebrates national title, overall GAC trophy
For the first time ever, the Wonder Boys are national champions.
Andre Jacobs' one-stroke victory in the fifth and final match of the day gave the Arkansas Tech University men's golf team a 3-2 victory over Georgia Southwestern University in the finals of the 2021 NCAA Division II Championships on Friday, May 21.
“It was relief, excitement and pure joy,” said Luke Calcatera, ATU head men's golf coach. “I felt it for myself, but more so for these guys who have worked so hard and for the alumni who came before them and got the train rolling. It’s an incredible moment we’re going to remember forever.”
It is the first collegiate national golf championship won by a team from Arkansas and ATU’s third national title in any sport. The Golden Suns basketball program won back-to-back NAIA national championships in 1992 and 1993.
“You could just tell in the way that they felt, our guys were prepared,” said Calcatera. “I have five really talented leaders who can play against anyone. They got it done.”
Jacobs, a sophomore from League City, Texas, was joined on Arkansas Tech's active roster at the national finals by freshman Santiago De La Fuente of Mexico City, Mexico, freshman Henry Frizzell of Frisco, Texas, senior Austin Gean of Florence, Ala., and sophomore Francois Jacobs of League City, Texas. Sophomore Trevor Brunson of Lowell was the alternate. Adam Anderson, a 2011 graduate of Arkansas Tech, served as volunteer assistant coach.
The Wonder Boys golf team also won the 2021 Great American Conference championship, an achievement that helped ATU win the inaugural GAC President’s Trophy.
The new award is presented to the program that earns the highest percentage of GAC all-sports points based on the sports they sponsor. ATU earned 81 percent of its possible total points during the 2020-21 academic year. Harding University finished second with 74 percent.
"I am beyond proud of all our student-athletes, coaches and athletic staff for not only what they achieved in their respective competitions, but what they all persevered through this past year," said Abby Davis, ATU interim director of athletics. "Earning the GAC President's Trophy reflects just how well-balanced our department is and how our teams meet our expectations of competing year-in and year-out for championships."
Arkansas Tech won regular season 2021 GAC championships in women's basketball and baseball. ATU was GAC Tournament champion in softball and GAC runner-up in women's cross country and women's golf. ATU reached the semifinals of the GAC postseason tournaments for volleyball and women's tennis.
The Arkansas Tech men's basketball team earned the right to host a first-round game in the GAC Tournament and the ATU women's track and field team scored 16 points in its first appearance at the GAC Championships. The GAC did not sponsor a football season during the 2020-21 academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beyond the conference level and in addition to the men’s golf national championship, Arkansas Tech won the NCAA Division II Central Region title in women's golf and earned a bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament in women's basketball, baseball and softball.