Arkansas State University president touts record enrollment, retention rates in the midst of chancellor resignation

by George Jared ([email protected]) 112 views 

Arkansas State University had a tumultuous August, but system President Chuck Welch thinks the university will weather the storm caused by the sudden departure of former Chancellor Tim Hudson.

A new month has dawned, and it’s already been a strong one for ASU, Welch told members of the NEA Political Animals on Friday at the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Welch touted a record enrollment of more than 14,000 students, all-time best academic achievements, and relatively low educational costs. Hudson’s departure was spurred by an internal audit that revealed he tried to hire his wife to run the school’s studies abroad program, a violation of state law, he facilitated a financial arrangement between ASU and a company in Spain that he previously sat on its board and other possibly unethical practices. Despite this, Welch said his university is ready to turn the page and start a new chapter with the hiring of interim Chancellor Doug Whitlock.

“It’s obviously been a challenging few weeks for us … the university is a survivor,” Welch said. “We’ve learned a lot.”

The internal audit revealed that no money was missing, and many of Hudson’s wrong doings were the result of not adhering to existing codes and procedures already in place, he said. Welch said he won’t change his approach to his position, but he will make sure the next permanent chancellor follows all existing protocols. Welch admitted he should have known more about Hudson’s wrongdoings before hand, but it’s impossible to keep track of every single detail in a system as vast as ASU.

Whitlock will serve at least one year. It’s not uncommon in circumstances like this to hire a temporary replacement, Welch said. The reasoning is simple. The best candidates for the job already have jobs at this time of year, and adding someone like Whitlock to the staff will give them a year of insight from an external perspective.

Despite the chancellor problems, the university has performed at a high level in the last five years. Student enrollment numbers have been record setting, and the school has raised endowment money like never before, he said. In the last two years, the school has a 65% retention rate for full-time students who’ve completed classes through their sophomore year.

ASU’s partnership with Queretaro Mexico is on schedule, and the campus is still slated to open in the fall, 2017. ASU is not paying for the buildings on the campus. ASU will hire the teachers, allow licensing of its brand, and set the curriculum standards, Welch said. ASU will receive a percentage per student once the college is in full operation. The agreement is the first of its kind between a major U.S. university and Mexico, Welch said. Many other high profile institutions have tried to talk Mexican officials out of the agreement, but they’ve stuck with ASU, he said.

“This is a very low risk, high reward project,” he said. “It will completely transform the way people around the country view our university.”