Shorter College’s Post-Pandemic Renaissance Spreading Throughout North Little Rock Community
Shorter College in North Little Rock has the distinction as one of the nation’s often overlooked and under resourced two-year Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). However, amid the lockdowns and chaos from COVID-19, the 137-year-old Arkansas college is revitalizing the community as more people become aware of its educational services and mission.
Founded in 1886 by the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, Shorter is the nation’s only private, two-year HBCU. Located at the center of the multiyear, $1 billion I-30 Crossing project that is rebuilding the Arkansas River bridge and widening a 6.7-mile section of the interstate through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock, the local two-year community college is poised for new growth.
One of the highlights of the urban North Little Rock campus is the renovated Shorter College Health and Wellness Center that provides medical services for students, faculty and staff, and the community. According to Dr. Paula Fletcher, health director for the renovated center at 700 Vine Street, the facility's mission is to become a focal point for the largely African American neighborhood surrounding the campus.
“It is not just reaching the Shorter College campus, but the community,” said Fletcher, a longtime dentist and orthodontist in central Arkansas. “We are going in the direction of having nutritionist, and focusing on (healthy) education programs, as well as being able to offer other services.”
Besides Fletcher, longtime Little Rock physician and general surgeon Dr. William Rutledge also volunteers his services at the college health clinic. Rutledge received his medical degree from Meharry Medical College School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn., and has practiced in the area for over four decades. During the pandemic, Fletcher said Shorter re-established itself as a community hub, providing services like COVID-19 tests and educating students and local residents about the importance of vaccinations.
Only months after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic in early 2020, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) offered its first universal mobile testing site at the North Little Rock HBCU. ow that President Joe Biden has declared that the pandemic will officially end in May, Fletcher said the facility known as “The Vine” is taking a more holistic approach to its healthcare services.
In addition to providing health services, the center will focus on educating the community about the many health disparities impacting Black patients. Fletcher said she is working with nutritionists and physical trainers to bring more focus on the “wellness” part of The Vine’s mission. “So, we are kind of in that infant stage where we are trying to answer those (health) questions and get the education out for to students and our neighbors,” she said.
Noting the recent collapse of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin from cardiac arrest during an NFL game earlier this year, Fletcher said the center has used that occasion to teach students about CPR. During the incident in Cincinnati on Jan. 2, first responders performed life-saving CPR on the Bills’ defensive back.
As part of the center’s observance of National Heart Month in February, Fletcher said the staff provided CPR training and certification to 18 people and purchased automated external defibrillators (AEDs) and other emergency equipment. The center also collaborates with local organizations to provide other needed healthcare services. “We are strategically planning for those types of things because that looks out for everybody,” she said. Besides the health and wellness center, Shorter College under President O. Jerome Green has continued to add new and special programs to its portfolio of educational programs.
For example, the two-year community college is one of the state’s key partners in the Reimagine Arkansas Workforce Project. This federally funded workforce training program benefits Arkansans economically impacted by the COVID19 pandemic. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Education awarded more than $13 million to the Arkansas Workforce Development Board and the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services to fund the statewide coordinated effort. Training programs include business, construction, healthcare, manufacturing, project management, technology, veterinary, and other vocational and technical areas.
According to state workforce officials, the program is intended to help Arkansans who are unemployed, underemployed, new to the workforce, or have no work history. It also targets the state’s underrepresented population, including veterans and family members, those who receive public assistance, the homeless, and persons previously incarcerated, paroled, or on probation.
Project partners include state workforce agencies, Shorter College, the University of Arkansas Global Campus Professional and Workforce Development, and iDatafy LLC. The training is provided at no cost to meet workforce needs across the state, and students receive a certificate of completion from their specified area of study.
Shorter College also sponsors the Anchor Re-Entry and the Second Chance Pell Program programs, which help former and current Arkansas inmates get work certifications or college . Through a partnership with the Arkansas State Department of Community Corrections, the re-entry program recruits individuals currently participating in parole or probationary programs to get a college education.
The Second Chance Pell Program offers courses that lead to an Associate of Arts along with entrepreneurial studies in Wrightsville, Fayetteville, Osceola, Texarkana, Little Rock, West Memphis, Pine Bluff, and Malvern. True to its original mission as a two-year liberal arts college for high school graduates and those that have completed an accredited GED, Shorter offers associate’s level degrees in child development, Christian leadership, criminal justice, entrepreneurial studies, computer science, and general studies.
In early February, Shorter College officials held a ground-breaking ceremony for long-held plans for new dorms for the campus near Locust and Bishop Lindsey streets in North Little Rock. College officials held a ground-breaking ceremony on Feb. 11 for the planned construction of the new student accommodations, which are scheduled to be completed later this summer. According to campus spokesman James Cain, Shorter’s enrollment is up to 321 students.
Nationally, enrollment at community colleges and private four-year universities is down 0.7%, according to the National Clearinghouse Research Center. Shorter College has re-established its Bulldog men's and women’s basketball programs for the 2022-2023 season through the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), the governing association of community college, state college, and junior college athletics across the U.S. Shorter President Green Shorter is regaining its long-held status as a major contributor to central Arkansas’s economy, workforce and higher education system.
“(Shorter) is a major economic engine because of its payroll and the student population, It also is creator of human capital for the North Little Rock and Pulaski County workforce.” Longtime Shorter College alumnae and supporters Carolyn and George Brown, who first attended the North Little Rock campus in the late 1960s, said they are proud of the work that Green and the college’s faculty and staff are doing to bring the HBCU campus back to prominence.
“It is exciting to see all the wonderful things they are doing, and it makes us very proud to be part of the Shorter family,” said Carolyn, a 1969 graduate. George, a 1967 graduate and former Shorter basketball player, agreed: “There are Shorter graduates and alumni all over Arkansas and the United States. It is good to see this renaissance.”