College more affordable in Arkansas, while less spent on programs for students

by Steve Brawner (BRAWNERSTEVE@MAC.COM) 78 views 

A college education is more affordable in Arkansas than in other states, in part because state support for colleges and universities is above the national average, said the director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

Meanwhile, Arkansas’ higher education institutions spend a smaller percentage than the national average on programs affecting students and a higher percentage on institutional expenses.

In an interview Monday (Jan. 18), Dr. Brett Powell said the state ranked 12th best in college affordability. Tuition was about 10% of median income in 2013-14, an increase from 7.7% in 2007. Powell’s numbers come from a presentation he will make Wednesday to the Legislative Task Force to Study the Realignment of Higher Education.

Arkansas had the eighth highest state appropriation-to-tuition ratio, behind only six states and the District of Columbia. Arkansas’ $6,859 in state support of colleges and universities was $1,200 more than the national average of $5,659. State support did not include the lottery-funded Academic Challenge Scholarship.

Meanwhile, the $4,471 in average tuition revenues coming from Arkansas students across the state’s 35 public colleges and universities in 2013-14 was the seventh lowest in the country and $1,821 less than the national average of $6,292.

Powell said the burden of paying for college has shifted from states to students across the country since 2007. That’s true in Arkansas, but the change has been less pronounced.

Arkansas increased spending by 3% from fiscal year 2007 to 2014, while states across the country were reducing support by 9.4%. However, Arkansas was one of only five states where colleges’ and universities’ operating budgets did not keep pace with inflation each of the past five years. Because Arkansas schools’ revenues are divided roughly half and half between tuition and state support, if inflation is 2% and state support is flat, then tuition must increase by 4%, Powell said.

Arkansas’ colleges and universities spent 13.4% of their total expenses in 2014 on institutional support, or general administrative expenses, compared to a national average of 10.5%.

Powell said Arkansas’ higher percentage could be attributed to the small size of Arkansas’ institutions, leading to more duplicative expenses. Arkansas’ institutions averaged 3,345 full-time-equivalent students in fiscal year 2013-14, compared to a national average of 5,433. Nine states and the District of Columbia had smaller average student bodies.

Meanwhile, Arkansas schools spent smaller percentages in areas that tend to affect students: instruction (34.1% in Arkansas vs. 37% nationwide); academic support for instruction that occurs outside the classroom such as libraries (7.7% vs. 9.7%); and student services, or tutoring and advising (5.7% vs. 6.8%).

Powell said a study he published in 2012 found higher spending on instruction, academic support, and student services was associated with higher student completion rates.

Arkansas schools also spent a smaller percentage of their budgets than the national average on research (10.7% vs. 12.1%). They also spent a higher percentage on public service programs that benefit the community without tuition (7.5% vs. 5%). The University of Arkansas’ Cooperative Extension Service is a big reason why, Powell said.

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