70 years of Central Baptist College

By Stefanie Brazile

On September 15, all Mustangs will be called home to gather around the bell tower of their alma mater and celebrate 70 years of higher education.

In 1952, Central Baptist College (CBC) was established by Missionary Baptist Churches of Arkansas on the site of the former Central College for Women. At that time, a letter went out to churches that stated: “We must provide an institution of higher learning for our young men and women. After all, it is upon their shoulders that the responsibility of proclaiming the gospel will fall.”

For most of his career, President Terry Kimbrow has studied the history that inspired the private college that is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

“An association of predominantly small Baptist churches took a huge leap of faith by purchasing the [Central College] Conway property, from a liquidating agency for $85,000,” Kimbrow said. “The churches were intent on opening a college; Conway Corporation was instrumental in paving the way for what is now Central Baptist College to be located in Conway.”

The college is a ministry of the Baptist Missionary Association of Arkansas and, according to its mission statement, is committed to transforming lives through education that integrates Christian faith and academic excellence in a Christ-centered environment.

What began as a dozen students and five employees has grown to more than 622 students and 80 full time employees. More than 40 baccalaureate degree programs are offered at CBC’s main campus in Conway and online. Programs of study are offered in both traditional and online formats, with accelerated programs available through the PACE Department. 

When driving past the beautiful campus on College Avenue in Conway, a major architectural focus is the Ratliff Bell Tower. 

“I’ve read all the history of CBC that I can get my hands on, including Board minutes going back to November, 1951,” Kimbrow said. “It’s been a struggle to operate a private college, even with all the church and community support. There were times, during my 29 years at CBC, when I didn’t think we would survive, but God has always come through. I have no doubt He will continue to do so.”

The benefits and challenges of operating a private college have largely remained the same over 70 years.   

“Fast forward, and today the challenges may seem much different than they were in 1952, but in a lot of ways they are the same — it takes a lot of money to operate a private college,” Kimbro said. “We are greatly indebted to the patrons and businesses in the City of Conway for their generosity. The churches that own and operate CBC continue to be a source of financial support and encouragement.” 

Over the years, CBC has undergone several name changes, but since 1961 their banner has remained the same.

The 60s were the era of expansion, with the construction of Williams Hall, A.R. Reddin Fieldhouse, the Hornaday Student Center, and the J.E. Cobb Library/Administration Building.

Construction on the Harold E. Cooper Educational Complex took place from 1979 to 1984. Then, in 1994, CBC’s “Achieving New Dimensions” campaign raised $1.6 million, supporting the opening of the Mabee Student Services Complex in 1997.

At the start of the new millennium, the quiet phase of a campaign titled “Vision 2020 – A Miracle in the Making” was launched. It went public in 2011 with the groundbreaking of the David T. Watkins Academic Building.

After that, the Ratliff Bell Tower brick structure was erected as the focus of the campus, bridging the old with the new. Over time, older structures were removed and new facilities replaced them, like the Story Library, which was dedicated in early 2014. It is a state-of-the-art facility where students access books, technology, and hang out.

In the fall of 2014, students moved into Dickson Hall, and the following year Burgess Auditorium was renovated. In 2017, the off-site Wrestling Center was dedicated, and in 2018, the Mary Ned Foster Band Rehearsal Hall opened.

As Chairman of the Board, Jim Fink is proud of the CBC legacy.

“I believe that CBC has something to offer that students and parents alike are searching for. I call it the CBC Experience.” – CBC President Terry Kimbrow (Photo by Mike Kemp)

“Central Baptist College has been a great source of learning and inspiration for my church and my family,” Fink said. “Our church has had numerous graduates from CBC benefiting from Bible teachings to education in their career paths. It was the perfect place for my two daughters to start their advanced education. I am grateful to those who had the vision to organize the college some 70 years ago.”

To celebrate the legacy, both past and present, Mustangs will come home September 15 to celebrate. The community will also be invited to the campus for special events. Learn more about unfolding plans at facebook.com/CentralBaptistCollege.