UCA's manifest destiny 

Lu Hardin looks to expand college's reach.


University of Central Arkansas president Lu Hardin has explored more formal partnerships with Pulaski Technical College and the Arkansas Educational Television Network to enhance academic opportunities and expand his university’s reach.

All involved are careful in talking about the ideas, which could be expected to stir some anxiety, if not outright resistance, from state officials and college competitors.

Hardin says he has talked with Pulaski Tech president Dan Bakke and board chairman John Barnes.

“Dr. Dan Bakke and I have had an ongoing dialogue about the natural progression of UCA and Pulaski Tech partnerships,” Hardin said. “A merger with Pulaski Tech is not on the table. Right now we are exploring opportunities of partnership.”

Bakke, while confirming his conversation with Hardin, downplayed the chances of more formal ties with UCA, citing Pulaski Tech’s existing connections with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

“We have a big relationship working with UALR, being a local university,” Bakke said. “We’re in the same city, we have a very close working relationship. It is unique and rightfully so.”

When asked whether he is considering closer ties with UCA, Bakke said, “We have articulation agreements with every university based on two-year transfers.” He added that Pulaski Tech officials meet with their counterparts at all of the state universities.

Barnes, who has chaired the Pulaski Tech board for all but three years since the college’s inception in 1991, said, “During our conversation, the idea of a merger came up. I can’t remember who brought it up. My reaction immediately was that it is in the best interests of Pulaski Tech to remain an independent institution. As long as we can continue to get funding to provide for students, that’s how we would continue to progress. … I said, ‘Lu, if we ever got into a situation where we would consider a merger, your school would be one of the ones we would talk to.’ That’s where it was left, and there haven’t been any conversations since then.”

For his part, Hardin said, “My goal is for this not to infringe on any of the programs and partnerships that UALR has with Pulaski Tech.” He maintained, “We are very serious about continuing to receive Pulaski Tech transfer students and also pursue partnerships on majors and academic programs. The meetings that I have had with John Barnes and Dan Bakke have been eventful and this is a natural progression because of geography. While a merger is not on the table, certainly you never close the door on any issue long-term. And right now, in my professional opinion, Pulaski Tech is best served remaining independent.”

Hardin listed several reasons why he is interested in a closer relationship between UCA and Pulaski Tech.

“It’s not simply enrollment,” Hardin said. “First, the Pulaski Tech students we are recruiting have already demonstrated, in most cases, 60 hours of academic success, and they are more likely to finish their degree and graduate. Secondly, this basically is our mission, the mission of a public university, to help students achieve their four-year degree. And third, we need — all of the four-year universities need — to develop even closer working relationships with our two-year colleagues.”

He cited the parallel rapid growth of UCA and Pulaski Tech, with UCA expanding from 8,500 to 12,300 students in the last four years, and Pulaski Tech’s enrollment ballooning from 1,638 to 8,455 during the last decade. “Both institutions are growing rapidly so the partnerships make sense,” Hardin said.



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