UAFS Chancellor touts institution’s $301 million economic impact, strategic vision

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 490 views 

University of Arkansas at Fort Smith Chancellor Dr. Paul Beran speaks Friday (Mar. 3) at the First Friday Breakfast held by the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) creates a $301 million annual impact on the Fort Smith region and generates $7.6 million in total state and local taxes with an additional $14.2 million federally.

UAFS Chancellor Dr. Paul Beran shared details of the latest economic impact study from the school’s College of Business at the March 3 Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce First Friday Breakfast. Also Friday, Beran unveiled the university’s 2017-2022 strategic plan along with a new vision statement for the institution.

The economic impact study is the third conducted under Beran’s watch since taking over the university’s leadership role in 2006. Previous studies in 2009 and 2012 yielded $169 million and $220 million impacts, respectively.

Drilling further into the numbers, Beran said the $301 million total could be broken down into two key categories:
• Direct impact of $154.8 million consisting of the dollars spent by UAFS, its faculty, and students or those who visit from outside the region.

• Multiplier effects of $146.2 million from direct impact spending to support other jobs in the economy (i.e. housing, food/medical services for faculty, staff, students, and visitors as well as building materials, furniture, technology, and other supplies to support UAFS facilities).

Of the multiplier effects total, the service industry was the leading sector at 57%. Operations spending by the university contributed a total of $81 million in output to the regional economy and supported more than 600 jobs in service and other related sectors.

In the jobs talk, the report revealed 1,500 in the overall impact and $64.8 million in household income. Annual spending by UAFS faculty and staff generated an estimated $87 million and supported 320 jobs, while spending from the university’s 6,704 students hit close to $95 million and supported 350 jobs. And speaking of UAFS students, using the number of fall and spring graduates from fiscal year 2016, their contributions to the state workforce are estimated to be $270 million.

“This increase in lifetime earnings is a permanent, positive change to the economic potential of the state,” Beran said, adding that it is “essential for the long-term economic health of the region.”

Recent capital projects undertaken by the university included construction of the Windgate Art and Design building and the Recreation and Wellness Center as well as renovations to the Flanders Business and Math-Science buildings, which resulted in an overall economic impact of $37.5 million. The remainder of contributing sectors under the multiplier effects banner consist of Trade (15%), Transportation/Information/Public Utilities (15%), Manufacturing (5%), Construction (3%), and Government (3%).

The full report is the result of analysis from primary researcher and author Dr. Latisha Settlage, a professor of economics at UAFS. Data compilers contributing to the analysis were Andrew Haught, Stacey Jones and the Season of Entertainment Staff, Jason Merritt, and Robert Wilson.

As for the UAFS 5-year vision statement, Beran said the university would work to become “a national model for preparing students for workforce mobility through education and professional development while serving as the thought leader in the region for workforce training.”

With “Generation Z,” the first “fully connected generation,” now enrolling at UAFS, Beran said, “it is not enough to teach a student how to keep a job, but we also need to teach them how to change jobs.”

Affirming Beran’s statement, a July 2016 report from business and finance publication The Balance, found the modern workforce changes jobs between 10 and 15 times throughout the course of a lifetime with 12 being the average.

Strategic initiatives for the next five years will include increasing enrollment, retention and graduation rates; providing academic opportunities that support economic growth and development; championing growth for university faculty and staff; aligning resources to support industry-specific degrees and programs; and continuing to seek alternative funding sources to develop new revenue streams that will support strategic plan initiatives.

This last initiative will be important as the state moves to a new performance-based funding formula in the next two years. The new formula would base funding on each institution’s success in advancing students. The model would award funding based on credentials awarded, student progression toward degrees, time to degree, and other factors. More funding would be awarded for students enrolled in math and science and other high-demand majors, as well as students coming from challenging circumstances. Each student would be worth a certain amount of points. Still to be determined is a metric measuring post-completion success. Adjustments will be made for smaller colleges, which have higher administrative expenses, and research universities.

In February, Beran told Talk Business & Politics UAFS is “well-positioned” under the new formula.

“Our focus has been graduating people, getting people jobs. Our impact on the local economy is increasing dramatically every year that we graduate a number of students with a large portion of them staying in this area. They go into business and industry, technology, and all of those different areas,” Beran explained adding that the “other piece of this is that we are very active in making sure that we’re working with the high schools, particularly in the areas of the Western Arkansas Technical Center (WATC) and the kinds of technologies in those particular areas where people are getting one-year certificates and two-year degrees.”

Beran said UAFS has a clear, “unimpeded” pathway from two-year degrees to four-year degrees without students losing credit hours along the way. “Also,” he added, “we are working with 14 community colleges to deliver multiple degrees,” such as bachelor of applied science, bachelor of organizational leadership, and criminal justice.

The state’s formula is now based on numerical enrollment and infrastructure costs. Under this structure, UAFS receives approximately $21 million in state funding and operates on a budget of around $73 million.