University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton
Lisa Willenberg officially began her role as chancellor at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton on November 1, 2019, making her the first woman to hold the position of the college’s highest-ranking administrator. A skilled 28-year administrator and longtime active member of the community in Conway County, Chancellor Willenberg transitioned into her current role after 27 years of working at UACCM, starting as a general accountant and later becoming a vice chancellor in 2011. She also has experience as an adjunct instructor, teaching accounting at the college.
COVID-19 struck almost immediately after you became chancellor. It affects the institution, not only as a college, but as a partner with area high schools and employers. How would you evaluate UACCM’s response?
CHANCELLOR WILLENBERG: When the public health care crisis began, UACCM created flexibility in scheduling various modes of instructional delivery. First, the college had to quickly adapt to online instruction in March with less than two weeks’ notice. As we transitioned to virtual learning, we shifted many support services and resources, such as advising, tutoring, library materials, etc. Our student development office offered weekly online support group chats to help students with anxiety and provide some peace of mind. We were able to provide laptops for students and enhanced our IT resources.
For the fall 2020 semester, students could choose a number of attendance methods, including in-person, online, synchronous (live virtual delivery), and a hybrid blend. Many students enjoyed the ability to select which type of class to attend on a weekly basis. While some students felt comfortable returning to classrooms and labs, others preferred to continue online studies. For the ones returning to campus, we put into place the health protocols required and strived to reassure them their safety was our number one concern.
You’ve announced a goal of increasing enrollment. What are the different external factors that affect college enrollment? What measures can UACCM take to grow enrollment in the current climate?
CHANCELLOR WILLENBERG: The short answer would be to repeat what we did during the summer in advance of the fall 2020 semester by giving personal attention to every single student. UACCM was one of very few two-year colleges in the state and nation to record an enrollment increase. While there are still a lot of questions about the future, including what the status of the virus will be in January, students may hesitate to enroll if they are concerned about whether we will be able to hold in-person classes beginning in January. Some may have lost their jobs and be facing extreme financial hardships, unable to see a way they can commit the time to attend college and therefore unable to see how increased education and training will help them advance in the long run.
Individuals with school-age children may be concerned that the K-12 schools will be doing virtual learning in the spring, which would impact their ability to attend classes on campus. Concurrent high school students may not be able to attend classes at our UACCM Career Center. Some of these factors are out of our control, but we are committed to meeting the students where they are – adapting our instructional delivery methods and reviewing all processes and procedures in an effort to increase opportunity and access to education. We can take the best practices we have learned – the trial-by-fire lessons – and use that wisdom to eliminate red tape, remove barriers, and make student-centered decisions. Some of those may create more work for our employees, but if there’s one thing we learned from this, it’s how resilient and dedicated our faculty and staff are. Our commitment to student success is our number one goal.
What do you wish more people in central Arkansas knew about UACCM?
CHANCELLOR WILLENBERG: That we are taking this great opportunity to not only talk about and look into ways to restructure training, but we are actually making change happen. This includes expanded shorter-term programs and different types of instructional delivery in addition to the certificates and associate degrees we offer. Students and employers are less concerned about degrees and diplomas than they are with credentials that meet the region’s workforce needs. This may be short-term training very specific in nature, more internships and apprenticeships, and also enhanced employability skills such as work ethic, personal responsibility, analytical decision-making, and effective communication skills.
What do you think people don’t understand about UACCM?
CHANCELLOR WILLENBERG: That UACCM is not a “less than” option. The things that make attending UACCM advantageous are many: the quality education available from some of the greatest and most professional instructors in the state. The affordability, which not only allows students to often graduate debt-free but also makes them feel like it was a great value – not a cheap education but rather a great return on their investment. Small class sizes allowing for personalized, one-on-one attention. Support services like counseling (student development), individual advising, and student activities that create nurturing and lifelong relationships. Lastly, the varied transfer opportunities to all the major four-year institutions locally and across the state provide for a seamless transition for those wishing to complete a bachelor’s degree.
To learn more about the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton, visit uaccm.edu or call 800-264-1094.