- Associated Press - Sunday, March 27, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Officials at two community colleges in Arkansas are taking a look at the possibility of merging with the state’s largest university system.

Rich Mountain Community College in Mena and Pulaski Technical College in North Little are both considering merging with the University of Arkansas System.

“As our Board of Trustees discussed at a recent meeting, the UA System is willing to explore potential partnerships with interested institutions that would make strategic sense for both parties and the constituencies that are served,” UA System spokesman Nate Hinkle told Arkansas Business. “Right now, Pulaski Tech and Rich Mountain are the only two institutions that have expressed an interest in a potential partnership.”

Pulaski Tech officials told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the UA brand could increase enrollment that has fallen from 11,946 in 2011 to 7,648 last fall.

College President Margaret Ellibee said the move could also save money in purchasing and employee health insurance.

“Looking ahead in decisions that are going to be forthcoming, we think about those at 2 o’clock in the morning,” she said.

Rich Mountain President Phillip Wilson said merging would provide his college’s students with more programs to choose from in addition to what he called a “prestigious” diploma with the UA brand on it.

“I think that our community is so tightknit that they can understand and appreciate that as much as we love our independence here as being a stand-alone, we are the smallest community college in the state,” he said. The school has 932 students.

“My population isn’t going to allow for me to grow twice as large as we are now. Our community values this institution so much that I believe they understand that there is an outstanding opportunity to join a flagship system. I think they understand the importance of it.”

UA System President Donald Bobbitt met with Richland trustees in December and was to meet with Pulaski Tech trustees on Monday.

There are 22 community colleges in the state: twelve are independent institutions, five are already part of the University of Arkansas System, four are affiliated with the Arkansas State University System, and one is an arm of Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.

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