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Higher education in Arkansas entered a new era April 4 when Gov. Huckabee signed into law Act 1114 of 1997 creating the new Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The new board replaces the old State Board of Higher Education and is composed of 12 members appointed by the governor. This board represents the public two- and four-year colleges and university campuses as well as business, industry, public education, agriculturally related industry and medical services. The initial board members will serve staggered terms of six years, with the terms of two board members expiring each year.

The new board held its first meeting May 20 on the campus of NorthWest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville. Clifton Roaf of Pine Bluff was elected chairman, George Elrod of Siloam Springs was elected vice-chairman and Betsy Thompson of Monticello, secretary. Bob Cheyne of Bentonville is a member of the board. Under Act 1114, the board appoints the director of the Department of Higher Education, subject to confirmation by the governor. The director serves at the pleasure of the governor. Former state Sen. Lu Hardin of Russellville is the director of the department.

Also under the act, a president’s council, composed of all presidents and chancellors of public two-year and four-year colleges and universities serves in a strong advisory capacity to the director and the board. An executive council of the president’s council will meet monthly with the director and senior staff of the department.

This new legislation was passed with the unanimous support of the chancellors and presidents of all publicly supported two-year and four-year colleges and universities. It received nearly unanimous bipartisan support in the General Assembly and the support of Gov. Huckabee as well.

Although it is too early to speak from experience, the consensus in the higher-education community is that the new board is broadly representative of the various constituencies and different types of institutions in our higher-education system. it is anticipated that there will be more communication with and cooperation among the board, the department and the two-year and four-year campuses throughout the state. That will be good for higher education and good for Arkansas. These are exciting and challenging times for higher education in our state, and we are looking forward to the future.

The powers and duties of the new board are:

1. To function as a coordinating body between the technical and community colleges in the system and the public schools, universities, state colleges and other educational institutions in the state;

2. To determine service areas of various colleges and universities;

3. To review, evaluate and coordinate budget requests for the colleges and universities in the state;

4. To develop, in conjunction with the institutions, the governor and the Legislative Council a single simplified set of budget forms in making requests and recommendations for funding;

5. To determine, in coordination with the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee, that state funds are used in conformity with the grants of such funds;

6. To determine a minimum level for student tuition and fees to be charged by institutions within the system in regard to the funding formula;

7. To plan, in cooperation with the State Board of Vocational Education, the allocation of federal funds for instructional programs and student services, including funds for vocational and technical education, adult basic and general education;

8. To recommend to the General Assembly the location and priorities for establishment or expansion of institutions or abolition of institutions; and

9. To develop a standardized method of calculating the full-time equivalent enrollment, including students attending off-campus programs offered by the institution, for use by each two-year post secondary institution to this state.

A tall order to fill? Certainly, said Hardin at the board’s first meeting. But the individuals appointed to the board are accomplished people who have stated their commitment to leading higher education through challenging, yet exciting times. Indeed a new era.

Louis B. “Bucky” Jones Jr. is assistant to the president and director of government relations and development at NorthWest Arkansas Community College.