New Year, Same Focus: Providing Access to a Better Life

ATU Freshman Welcome August 2023
Dr. Russell Jones (left), acting interim president of Arkansas Tech University, addressed ATU freshmen as part of their orientation process in advance of the fall 2023 semester.

As Arkansas Tech University prepares to embark upon its 114th session, some of its foremost academic leaders paused to reflect upon the mission and vision of ATU and its role as a public institution of higher learning.

“Higher education forms a framework from which you live your life,” said Dr. John Jackson, interim dean of the ATU College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. “I look back at my experiences with higher education that I cherish, and they have a lot to do with maturing as an adult and realizing where you are going to fit into society. It’s a personal growth opportunity. You live with people who are going through the same experiences. Outside the talk about making more money and it being an investment in monetary terms, I think the real benefit is the life-changing personal and social opportunities you have while you are in college.”

Classes for the fall 2023 semester at ATU will begin on Wednesday, Aug. 23. Information about applying for admission and beginning the enrollment process is available by calling (479) 968-0343, sending e-mail to or visiting the ATU Office of Admissions in Brown Hall, 104 West O Street in Russellville.

“There is a public good that results from higher education,” said Dr. Sarah Gordon, interim dean of the ATU Graduate College. “The knowledge that is gained and the degrees that are earned at Arkansas Tech result in a significant contribution to the economic well-being of our region and our state. However, As W.E.B. DuBois observed, ‘the function of the university is not simply to teach breadwinning.’ Higher education enriches the surrounding community and benefits society as a whole.”

Founded in 1909, Arkansas Tech served a population of 9,445 students during the 2022-23 academic year. In addition to its campus in Russellville, ATU-Ozark Campus has been part of the Arkansas Tech community since 2003.

“I believe that education has the opportunity to provide people with a broader perspective, greater depth of understanding and increased potential for the future,” said Dr. Tim Carter, interim dean of the ATU College of Education and Health. “We live in a culture of immediacy, but investments like going to college and earning a degree provide a greater return over time. People leave Arkansas Tech with a good knowledge base in their field, and they also leave with a lot of practical experience. It’s not just a theoretical education, nor is it just a skills trade education. We tend to pull those two things together quite well.”

ATU is ranked No. 1 in Arkansas and among the top 5 percent of all U.S. colleges and universities on the CollegeNET Social Mobility Index. The annual survey looks at the economic background of a university’s student body and compares it to the institution’s tuition rate, graduation rate, average student debt and endowment as well as the early career salary for its young alumni.

“The ways in which we steep people into a discipline is what is most beneficial,” said Dr. Jeffrey Cass, dean of the ATU College of Arts and Humanities. “Often, arts and humanities apologizes for itself too much in the sense that we always talk about teaching people critical thinking skills and that sort of thing, which is true. But we have to be proud of our disciplines. Getting ensconced in a discipline is what makes the education for the student. The fact that they may end up in another career field is irrelevant. Getting steeped into a discipline means being committed to something, and in a very deep way. How do you know what commitment is if you’ve never done something deeply? That’s the value.”

Arkansas Tech earned accreditation as a four-year institution of higher learning in 1951 and has maintained it ever since.

In addition to its overall accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, ATU has accredited programs in disciplines as diverse as business, educator preparation, computer science, information technology, emergency management, art, health information management, hospitality administration, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, music, nursing, recreation and park administration and rehabilitation science.

“It’s the relationships we can afford to have with our students as faculty and staff because of our size,” said Jackson when asked what distinguishes an Arkansas Tech education. “But it’s more than just our size. It’s our philosophy and attitude that’s so inherent in who we are. Those are the types of people we want to work here, so that’s who we seek when we hire people…those who want to form those strong relationships with students. Our personal success and joy come from watching our students succeed.”

A recent wave of academic innovation has resulted in several new degree programs, including applied statistics with a data science option, computer engineering, criminal justice and criminology, cybersecurity, game and interactive media design, environmental science, electrical engineering biomedical option, computer science education, chemistry education and physics education.

ATU has also developed shorter-term credentials that allow students to progress toward degree attainment on a schedule that aligns with their family and work responsibilities.

“Arkansas Tech provides big-school experiences and opportunities with small-school student support,” said Gordon. “We are student-focused and provide practical knowledge that applies to the world beyond our campus. There are high expectations for our students, but they are attainable and they lead to degrees with real value.”

U.S. News and World Report named Arkansas Tech University the No. 1 regional public university in Arkansas for 2021-22 and 2022-23. In addition, the publication ranks Arkansas Tech among the top 32 public universities in the southern United States.

“What’s different about this place is, even in tough times, people stick together and they maintain their commitments to the university, the students and the community,” said Cass. “I think it’s important that we have the local connection to the Arkansas River Valley, and it’s a deep one. I find working with the community that they are very pro-Arkansas Tech. People here really care.”

With more than 50,000 living alumni scattered around Arkansas, the United States and the world, the influence of Arkansas Tech has continued to grow and diversify throughout its 114-year history.

“We’re going to challenge students and try to get them to extend their thoughts and applications beyond what they may have considered possible,” said Carter. “The whole goal is that they are well prepared as professionals to be innovators, collaborators and experts in their particular field. Tech is more than an educational institution. It’s a community of people who work together to try and accomplish what is best for our students, our state and our region.”