Officials with the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) shed more light on the university’s new fixed tuition program for first-year entering students. UAFS Director of Government and Community Relations Jordan Hale presented details to members of the UAFS Board of Visitors at a meeting on Wednesday (Sept. 19).
Hale said the program has gone through about one year of development and it will guarantee a single tuition rate for up to four years “as long as students remain on track to graduate.”
The program is the only one of its kind in the state, Hale said, adding it would allow students and their families to “plan ahead, save money, and reduce the financial burden” of college while offering students “an incentive to graduate on time, which can be a struggle for some students.”
UAFS Promise was, in part, a response to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s statewide call for universities to not request any tuition increases.
“We honored that request and it got us to thinking about other ways we could save students money,” Hale said. The university also was influenced by changes to the state funding formula for higher education. “Funds for universities in the state of Arkansas are not just enrollment now. It’s based on progression for students. Are they meeting their milestones? Are they graduating? Are you awarding those degrees in the timely manner they were designed to be awarded?”
On the question of potential lost revenues, Dr. Bradley Sheriff, vice chancellor in the office of Finance and Administration, said the university is banking on two factors to mitigate.
“Our tuition increases year-over-year don’t tend to be huge. So, when we push this out, the revenue loss, if you will, is surprisingly manageable and the idea is that it will be offset by two things — that it will impact enrollment, so we might be getting less margin per student but more students; and retention, which is a big, big issue for us.”
Sheriff drew a comparison to consumer-facing businesses. He said they find it “cheaper to keep a customer than to have to go out and find a new one. That’s really our thinking on this. Worst-case scenario, it’s probably manageable. But we have every reason to think we’re not going to be looking at worst-case.”
Hale acknowledged fixed tuition programs “are not new nationally,” but said UAFS Promise would be unique in that it doesn’t “front-load costs.”
Hale continued: “In Texas, for instance, the guaranteed rate is higher. They’re front-loading those costs, and that almost drives students away (from fixed tuition programs). We’re not doing that. Also, many programs do not allow students who require developmental education to participate in their fixed tuition program, and that’s not the case with us. We know some of our students don’t come to UAFS academically prepared for college coursework. We wanted this to be as flexible as possible and for all students, first-time entering, to be able to participate. So our students that require some form of remediation will be able to participate.”
The program is slated to launch in the fall of 2019. Current, transfer, and readmitted students are not eligible to participate. Students interested in signing up for the program can do so during their initial advising appointment. UAFS Promise will apply to the school’s 60 degree programs, and most have a timeframe of four years or eight semesters.