Arkansas Baptist College
Arkansas Baptist College (ABC) in Little Rock (Pulaski County) is a four-year historically black liberal arts institution that was accredited in 1987 by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and is affiliated with the Consolidated Missionary Baptist State Convention of Arkansas. In its quest to be a voice for the underrepresented student, ABC provides a quality education without charging out-of-state tuition fees. The vision of Arkansas Baptist College is thus: “To see our community, state, and nation positively influenced through the integration of academic scholarship and Christian principles to address issues having a detrimental effect on society.”
Arkansas Baptist College was founded in 1884 by the Colored Baptists of the State of Arkansas. The school opened in November 1884 at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Little Rock and was named the Ministers’ Institute. The primary objective was to raise the educational level of the African-American ministry while valuing the teaching principles of Jesus Christ. The college was committed to academic and cultural excellence in educating future African-American ministers. The secondary objective was to aid the state in making higher education available to young black men and women. Most of the school’s students were trained in the ministry. In August 1885, the college’s name was changed to Arkansas Baptist College, and the school moved to 16th and High Street (now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive), where the campus remains in the twenty-first century.
ABC held its 123rd commencement exercise on May 12, 2007, graduating the largest class in the history of the institution, with forty-seven graduates. In addition, the college engaged in a large-scale campus renovation and construction project. In September 2014, ABC had 863 students enrolled for the fall semester.
The institution had four academic programs accredited by the North Central Association, consisting of five bachelor’s and three associate’s degrees: Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice, Bachelor of Arts in Human Services, Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies, Bachelor of Business Administration, Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration, Associate of Arts in Religious Studies, Associate of Business Administration, and Associate of Arts in Christian Education. The academic programs listed were designed to meet the needs of the Little Rock community served by Arkansas Baptist College. In keeping with its early history as a training ground for ministers, religious studies continued to be one of the college’s major areas of matriculation.
In the fall of 2006, Arkansas Baptist College restructured its academic schools and student affairs/student service departments and created the African American Leadership Institute. The African American Leadership Institute’s focus was on providing students an opportunity to develop leadership skills and practice these skills within the urban Little Rock community. On April 29, 2015, ABC opened and dedicated the Scott Ford Center for Entrepreneurship and Community Development, housed in the college’s First Security Community Union. The center sought to help train entrepreneurs, including former prison inmates, to start businesses in underserved communities.
The college’s thirteenth president, Dr. Fitzgerald Hill, demonstrated the ability to attract external funding sources to the institution. Under his leadership, Arkansas Baptist College obtained many new federal grants and has received the largest alumni gift in the history of the college—$200,000. In July 2016, Dr. Joseph Jones was selected as Hill’s successor. However, he was ousted by the board in December 2017 after a long period of financial difficulties and falling enrollment; he sued the college for wrongful termination, with a trial set for August 2020. Regina Favors became the interim president in September 2018. In August 2020, Dr. Carlos Clark was selected to lead the institution, but he left in October 2021, and Favors again took on the role of interim president.
During the 2010s, the small college experienced a number of financial difficulties—including the misspending of federal money—that occasionally resulted in faculty and staff going without paychecks and garnered significant debt for the school. Related to these financial difficulties, the Higher Learning Commission put ABC on probation for its accreditation in February 2019, with a reevaluation scheduled for February 2021. In 2022, the college was removed from probation and again fully accredited.
By 2019, efforts toward regaining financial solvency included obtaining a three-year deferment from a $30 million bond issue for upgraded facilities, through the U.S. Department of Education’s HBCU Capital Financing Program; partnering with New Life Church in Conway (Faulkner County) and Life Academy in Memphis, Tennessee, for increased student enrollment; and working with Apple Inc. and Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee, to offer coding experiences to attract and retain students. The school also began working to reduce energy costs on campus. Enrollment in fall 2018 was 523, with 554 enrolled in fall 2019. ABC announced an enrollment goal of 800 for fall 2020.
For additional information:
Arkansas Baptist College. http://www.arkansasbaptist.edu (accessed December 4, 2019).
Carter, Vertie L. Arkansas Baptist College: A Historical Perspective, 1884–1982. Houston: D. Armstrong Co., 1981.
———. Dr. E. C. Morris, 1855–1922. Little Rock: Arkansas VLC Research and Biographical Technical Enterprises, 1999.
Waldon, George. “More Restorative Work Awaits Arkansas Baptist.” Arkansas Business, November 25, 2019.
Johnny D. Jones
Arkansas Baptist College
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