Rich Mountain Community College began in 1973 as Rich Mountain Vocational-Technical School serving Polk, Scott, and Montgomery counties under the Arkansas Department of Vocational Education. Additionally, Henderson State University offered the first two years of general education courses toward a Bachelor’s degree at various sites in Polk County. The Polk County Committee for Higher Education, under the direction of Rachel Goforth as chair, worked to establish the college in Mena to combine these services.
Act 16 of 1983, authored by State Representative Ode Maddox, established the community college system in Arkansas. In April of that year, the voters of Polk County approved a 5-mill tax to establish the Polk County community college district. With Dr. Mary Louise Spencer as president, Rich Mountain Community College opened July 1, 1983 with an enrollment of 290 students. The college immediately applied for candidacy for accreditation with the North Central Association. After the required number of compliance years, Rich Mountain Community College received full accreditation in 1990 during the tenure of Mr. Bill Abernathy who became president in 1987.
By 1993, ten years into its successful history, RMCC’s enrollment had increased to 766 students and the faculty had grown from its original 11 full-time faculty to 16 full-time faculty. Programs and offerings changed to include computer programming and course offerings in the math and science fields increased substantially. Federal programs to ensure student success were added through grant applications.
In fall 2001, RMCC reached the 1,000 student mark. Shortly after the arrival of President Dr. Janet Smith, the North Central Association designated Rich Mountain as a “model community college,” at the completion of their site visit. Progress continued with the addition of an aviation maintenance program in partnership with the City of Mena. An entire building was added to accommodate advances in Machine Tool technologies. Grant funds allowed for renovations to the RMCC historic National Guard Armory. A campus walking trail and outdoor amphitheater were also completed during this time.
By 2008, the RMCC strategic plan included significant needed renovations to several college buildings. In 2009, during the tenure of President Dr. Wayne Hatcher, the time-line for progress drastically changed when a tornado destroyed parts of the campus, causing over three million dollars in damage. Every building was impacted. Classes and services were never interrupted. Student services were moved into the Tower Room creating a one-stop admissions center upon completion of needed renovations.
Since its inception, through 2012, RMCC has graduated 2, 235 students in various fields of endeavor. At this time, under the direction of President Dr. Phillip Wilson, plans are to build on the past. Programs now include cosmetology, advanced nursing, and online delivery of entire degrees. Delivery methods now include traditional site classes, compressed interactive video, and online courses. RMCC has grown from one original building to a multiple site learning institution with locations in all three counties of its service area. Multiple progressive renovations to campus buildings have taken place over the years. Adding to the College’s footprint is a new Learning Commons created within the library and an expanded Student Union with food service. The most recent building additions are a facility for Culinary Arts and the Ouachita Center. The Ouachita Center allows a space for cultural offerings on campus, such as performances by the new Theatre Guild.
Over its thirty year history, RMCC has been at the forefront of progress for the Polk, Scott, and Montgomery county service area. Its mission to provide educational opportunities for the residents of the Ouachita Mountain region continues to be the guide for programming, service, and involvement in the community.