College of the Ouachitas votes to join Arkansas State University System

by George Jared (gjared@talkbusiness.net) 284 views 

The Arkansas State University System is about to grow once more. The College of the Ouachitas Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Tuesday (Feb. 5) to become part of the ASU system. Subject to approval of the ASU Board of Trustees and the Higher Learning Commission, COTO would become the sixth member institution in the ASU System.

Located in Malvern, COTO enrolls nearly 1,700 students annually and has 110 full-time faculty and staff with an annual operating budget of more than $12 million.

Dr. Chuck Welch, president of the ASU System, said he would work with Dr. Steve Rook, president of COTO, to develop a merger agreement. He anticipates a joint board meeting sometime in March and hopes COTO can officially become part of the ASU System in January following the HLC review process. It could take more than a year for the merger to be completed. The ASU Board of Trustees next meeting is March 8 in Mountain Home.

“I am very grateful to the College of the Ouachitas board for choosing to align with the ASU System, and I appreciate the confidence they are placing in our system,” Welch said. “The college has researched system alignment for several years and conducted a very thorough analysis of available options. I am absolutely thrilled they concluded the ASU System is the best fit.”

“COTO has a rich history of providing high-quality educational programs to residents of south-central Arkansas, and I am confident that our partnership will only further elevate those offerings and opportunities,” Welch added. “The ASU System is committed to developing collaborative relationships that promote greater operational efficiencies while maintaining strong local autonomy. I believe that COTO is a perfect fit for our system, and I am eager to get started working together. I have absolutely no doubt that this partnership will be beneficial for the ASU System, COTO and our entire state.”

The COTO board announced in November that it would pursue alignment with one of three university systems. Rook said he began gathering information on the systems to assist in selecting the one that best fits with the college in carrying out its mission and vision. The University of Arkansas and Southern Arkansas University were the other universities under consideration. Rook has previously said that streamlining costs, especially state insurance costs, were among the reasons the school sought a merger.

“The Board of Trustees did not take this decision lightly,” Rook said. “All three systems considered are excellent organizations. Each of them would have brought a unique set of strengths and provided resources for the college to operate more efficiently and effectively. This alignment will provide insurance and retirement options that will alleviate the phantom post-employment liability issues. I look forward to working through this exciting transitional phase.”

ASU Board of Trustees Chair Niel Crowson of Jonesboro said, “This is very exciting news for the ASU System. When the Board of Trustees originally created a system, and ultimately chose to locate in Little Rock, there was a goal of promoting growth and development across our state. The addition of College of the Ouachitas will now allow our system to provide even more opportunities to Arkansans across a much larger geographic area. This partnership will undoubtedly produce more educated Arkansans while facilitating more efficient operations. This is a significant day for our system, and I look forward to being on the COTO campus very soon.”

COTO is among 20 two-year institutions that currently have transfer articulation agreements with Arkansas State University in Jonesboro for students who choose to continue their education beyond an associate degree. The 18 agreements with COTO include programs in business, computer science, humanities and communication.

COTO offers more than 60 programs of study in academic, career and technical disciplines to approximately 3,500 credit, non-credit, adult education (three sites—Hot Spring, Clark and Grant Counties) and workforce students, while serving the culturally and economically diverse populations in the five-county service area of Hot Spring, Saline, Clark, Grant and Dallas Counties. COTO also partners with high schools at Arkansas Christian Academy, Avilla Christian Academy, Benton, Bismarck, Glen Rose, Magnet Cove, Malvern, Poyen, Ouachita and Sheridan to offer concurrent core courses.

Additionally, COTO will staff the new 120,000-square-foot Saline County Career and Technical Center that will be funded by a recently approved county sales tax and will open by 2021 to serve some 500 students.

The ASU System, based in Little Rock, serves more than 23,000 students throughout Arkansas and includes Arkansas State University, a four-year research institution in Jonesboro with a campus in Queretaro, Mexico; ASU-Beebe, with additional campuses in Heber Springs and Searcy and an instructional site at the Little Rock Air Force Base; ASU-Mountain Home; ASU-Newport, with additional campuses in Jonesboro and Marked Tree; and ASU Mid-South in West Memphis.

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