|President Oren Paris stands in front of a 4800 square foot addition,|
with the Dome in the background.
Ecclesia College needs dormitory and classroom space.
SPRINGDALE - Oren Paris III, president of Ecclesia College in Springdale, isn’t boastful of his fundraising abilities. He’ll be the first to say that it’s a learning process he feels he’s only just begun.
“If I were really good at this, we probably wouldn’t be talking about it - ’cause it’d be done,” Paris said laughing in his campus office Tuesday.
But Paris, who succeeded his father, the college’s founder, as president in 1997, knows he doesn’t have the luxury of trying to wish the problem away.
Ecclesia, a private Christian college that began as a one-year ministry-training program in 1975, will soon begin straining both its classroom and student housing capacities, if recent growth is a predictor of future needs.
|Isaac Reppert sang "To Dream the Impossible Dream"|
at a recent recital.
Paris and Ecclesia registrar Donna Brown said enrollment jumped from 27 full-time students in February 2005, when the college received its first accreditation from the Association for Biblical Higher Education, to a full-time equivalent enrollment of 180 for the fall 2012 academic semester. The college has about 10 accredited degree programs. Paris projected a full-time equivalent enrollment of 200 for the fall 2013 semester.
“We’ll be running out of all space, really,” Paris said. “We’ll be running out of dining space, classroom space, administrative space, library space. It all happens at the same time.”
According to Brandi Hinkle, communications coordinator for the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, the department has certified four programs at Ecclesia, including an associate of general studies and bachelor’s degrees in business administration, emergency management and sports management.
Mike Novak, Ecclesia’s financial-development officer and an adjunct instructor in theater, said although the college does have students from across the United States, most of the college’s students have historically come from Arkansas and nearby states - Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.
“The way we’ve always done our marketing, it’s been a low-key, low-cost effort,” Novak said. “The college is advertised through word of mouth, person to person, often during a student’s visit to a new church - those tend to be closer, geographically.”
Ecclesia also hosts about 20 international students from areas such as Central America and Africa. Novak said this was a result of the college’s emphasis on mission work. Some Ecclesia students participate in missionary trips abroad during the summer months, which earns them community-service credit with the college, Novak said.
Ecclesia is one of only seven “work-learning schools” throughout the country, in which students provide labor for the institution to offset the cost of tuition, which ranges from about $15,250 to $20,250 annually for a full-time student, depending on housing and meal plans.
Ecclesia students are required to work a minimum of 90 hours each semester, performing duties ranging from landscaping and food service to administrative work, and are paid between $9 and $12 an hour toward the cost of their tuition for their work.
The school is now several hundred thousand dollars into an effort to expand its campus enough to cope with annual growth, including a 4,800-square-foot classroom facility that is estimated to cost between $300,000 and $400,000, and renovation of two off-campus rental properties, owned by the college, which Paris said will be converted for student housing.
Paris also must navigate his campus’s architectural equivalent of a white elephant - a 68,000-square-foot steel structure that has sat unfinished for more than a decade, only a few hundred yards from the college’s central administrative building.
Paris said the project began in 2000, when his plan was to expand the private Christian kindergarten-through-12 school then operating on the 200-acre property. Paris said Ecclesia spent about $500,000 to lay the foundation and erect the building’s steel frame and roof, and that construction halted immediately after those steps were completed.
Shifting circumstances have kept construction at a standstill ever since. After the structure was erected, Ecclesia administrators decided to get out of kindergarten-through-12 education altogether and focus solely on higher education, Paris said. Shortly thereafter, an Ecclesia board member who had promised to donate a significant amount of money toward the building’s completion died, and the funding never materialized.
Paris said Nabholz Construction Services, which had completed the first phase, estimated a total cost of $10.5 million to complete the building. While Paris would prefer to have the building finished, the scale of the expenditure has forced him to prioritize smaller, more fiscally manageable projects, such as the 4,800-square-foot classroom facility.
“We just got the building permit [recently],” Paris said. “We need it this fall. But that’s a $400,000 bite we’re taking there, compared to a $10.5 million cost estimate from Nabholz. Some schools would probably look at that and think it’s no big deal - for us, that’d be the biggest amount of money we’d ever had to raise.”
“But by 2015, I anticipate we’ll need to be in that big building,” Paris said.
Ecclesia student council chairman Missie McClarty, a freshman who first became involved with Ecclesia through its home-school preparatory academy as a high school sophomore, said that while the classroom seating situation was tolerable, any growth could make the situation uncomfortable.
“Classroom-wise, we’re not too bad, but I know in the future we’re going to be crowded,” McClarty said.
McClarty originally experimented with living on campus at the beginning of the 2012 fall semester, but said she returned to live with her parents after three weeks, rather than initiate a student loan to pay to live in one of the college’s family-style housing facilities.
McClarty said the 2012 academic year is the first in whichthe college has had a student council, and that she and her fellow council members are working to expand social options on the campus.
“Just little things to give students something to do besides study and work,” Mc-Clarty said.
McClarty said she chose to attend Ecclesia after considering a number of other Christian colleges popular with home-school graduates.
“I was thinking and praying about what I wanted to study,” McClarty said. “The one day, when I was on the Ecclesia campus, I just felt God speaking to my heart, saying, ‘This is where you’re supposed to go.’At first I though it was kind of crazy, but I love the environment and I love the students. We’re like a big family.”
Budgets for colleges such as Ecclesia - which has a total annual operating budget of about $2 million, according to Paris - are much smaller than major universities. The University of Arkansas’ Fayetteville campus, for example, spent more than $56.8 million on new construction and renovations in fiscal year 2011 alone, and another $97.4 million in fiscal year 2012. Steve Voorhies, the university’s media relations manager, said the campus has invested more than $1 billion in construction since 2003.
By contrast, Paris calculates the college will need to raise $59 million over the next 10 years to keep pace with the school’s growth. That amount would provide needed classroom and administrative space, as well as athletic facilities and housing - although of a considerably more humble nature than Paris said he’s seen at large universities.
“I’m not trying to have a climbing wall and a nursing station and ice cream on every floor,” Paris said.
Paris said he has begun quietly approaching potential donors, but is unsure if or when he wants to cultivate an official capital campaign.
“Some folks I’ve been with say, ‘You can call it a capital campaign, but don’t announce it until you’ve largely completed it,’” said Paris, who indicated he hoped to develop considerable momentum before going public with specific donation requests. “You use the capital campaign as a big promotion when you can already see the finish line.”
Northwest Arkansas, Pages 17 on 04/14/2013
|Cheri Headrick teaches music at Ecclesia College|
and tutors students of all ages in piano and voice.