NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC)

NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) is a comprehensive public two-year college serving the citizens of Benton and Washington counties, as well as the surrounding region. Established in 1989, the college has grown rapidly to become the second-largest community college in the state. The college’s main campus is in Bentonville (Benton County), with educational centers located throughout the two-county area. The college offers four associate’s degrees (Associate of Arts, Associate of Arts in Teaching, Associate of Science, and Associate of Applied Science) and a wide variety of workforce training programs, technical certificates, and adult education classes. NWACC is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.

NWACC was created after a special election on August 15, 1989, in which voters in the Bentonville and Rogers school districts in Benton County approved a three-mill ad valorem tax. The need for the college was evident from the success of a branch campus in Bentonville that North Arkansas Community College (NACC), now North Arkansas College (NorthArk), had established. From its inception, NWACC enjoyed the enthusiastic support of key leaders within the community, particularly the members of the first board of trustees. One of the first acts of the board was to capitalize the “W” in “NorthWest” to make the acronym NWACC and distinguish the college from NACC. The board selected Dr. Bob C. Burns to serve as the first president of the college, with his formal investiture on February 5, 1990.

With the hiring of twenty full-time faculty and sixty part-time instructors, NWACC welcomed 1,232 students when classes first met in August 1990. That set a record in the state for the largest number of students enrolled in a new community college. NWACC began as a “college without walls” meeting in multiple rented facilities throughout Benton and Washington counties. The college met in makeshift classrooms in local libraries, fire departments, city chambers, hospitals, churches, and even an old preschool.

NWACC grew rapidly, and its leaders soon acknowledged the need for a permanent main campus. The college gained a permanent home in Bentonville in 1995 with the construction of its main building, now known as Burns Hall. Originally constructed with 91,000 square feet, the building has since been remodeled and expanded to its present size of 181,000 square feet.

NWACC’s second president, Dr. Becky Paneitz, served from 2003 to 2013. During her administration, the college’s student body grew from 4,945 in the fall of 2003 to 8,020 in the fall of 2013. (Each student is enrolled in an average of eight credit hours.) Approximately 6,000 others are served annually through other non-credit classes. In addition to the expansion of Burns Hall, the college’s main campus grew during Paneitz’s tenure with the construction of the Shewmaker Center for Workforce Technologies (2003); Benton County’s first parking garage (2006); the Becky Paneitz Student Center (2007); the Shewmaker Center for Global Business Development (2013); and the Center for Health Professions (2013). The Melba Shewmaker Southern Region National Child Protection Training Center (2014) serves current and future child-protection professionals in a sixteen-state region. Enrollment for fall 2014 was 8,060.

In addition to support from the community and individual donors, especially the Shewmaker family, NWACC has benefited from support from the Walmart Foundation and Walton Family Foundation. NWACC works closely with Walmart Inc. and other nearby corporate entities to provide workforce training. In addition, new programs and the college’s online, Web-based courses are growing rapidly.

Dr. Evelyn Jorgenson became NWACC’s third president on July 1, 2013. She previously served for seventeen years as president of Moberly Area Community College in Missouri. In April 2022, it was announced that Dr. Dennis Rittle, previously president of Cowley College in Kansas, was chosen as the fourth president of the college.

For additional information:
Burns, Bob C. An American Dream Comes True: A Community College Founding President’s Memoir. Tulsa, OK: Yorkshire Publishing, 2008.

“Missourian to Lead State’s Second Largest Junior College.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Northwest Arkansas Edition), November 13, 2012.

NorthWest Arkansas Community College. (accessed June 15, 2023).

“Paneitz Chosen as NWACC President.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Northwest Arkansas Edition), May 1, 2003.

Gene Vinzant
NorthWest Arkansas Community College


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