A new University of Arkansas at Fort Smith policy to drop students for nonpayment is meant to help students and their financial health, not to penalize anyone. Dr. Terisa Riley, UAFS chancellor, explained the policy and recapped how it worked during her first meeting with the UAFS Board of Visitors Wednesday (Sept. 18).
Though UAFS did drop students for nonpayment in the past, the practice has not been used for many years, said Dr. Brad Sheriff, vice chancellor of finance and administration. UAFS decided to reinstate the practice in hopes of helping students avoid a debt that keeps them from continuing their schooling and to free up unused seats in a class, Riley said.
The policy has three drop dates — one week before the first day of class, the Friday before classes start and at the end of the first week of class. With the policy, students who have not paid for the semester prior to the start of the semester or who have not set up a payment schedule or plan are dropped from the school. Students who are able to secure funding or set up a payment plan can reregister for classes, Riley said.
“Students who are enrolled and in classes, whether they show up for classes or not, will owe the institution money. If student have registered for classes but they do not show up and they have already applied for federal aid, that federal money has to be returned and (the student) ends up owing the institution,” Riley said.
Institutions that don’t drop students who have not paid or made a financial arrangement end up with a real problem with students who never intended to attend the institution in the first place, Riley said.
“Sometimes, they didn’t know to withdraw formally or didn’t communicate that. … In which case it leads to transcript holds and other issues,” Riley said, noting this can impede a student who was wanting to attend school elsewhere.
The past UAFS policy had a hold placed on a student’s account if their bill was not paid (or a payment schedule was not being followed) by the time a student prepared to register for classes for the next semester. The hold would keep a student from being able to register.
“The old policy was done to give students a chance (and longer amount of time) to get their finances in order, but what we found was we had a set a barrier at the registration of the fall and spring semester. So students would come in the fall and they would carry significant amount of unpaid obligation with them. Then in November, they weren’t very far into a program, and they had already accumulated debt and were unable to continue,” Sheriff said.
While some students are dropped through this policy, those students are better off, he added.
“We were not serving those students well because it was a hard debt to carry forward on down the road,” Sheriff said. “What we hope is that we have a healthier student body in terms of their financial planning and preparation and with that hopes that with the help of other strategies the increase in retention.”
This semester, 1,600 students were on the list for drops. After being contacted by UAFS staff, that number dropped to 252 who were dropped, Sheriff said. Some of those students then secured funding and reregistered, Riley added. Student enrollment for the fall semester is at 6,258, down about 300 students from fall 2018, Riley said. The numbers follow the national trend with fewer traditional, straight from high school graduates enrolling in college, Riley said.
“We are working on an enrollment strategy and marketing to grow those numbers, especially looking at non-traditional students and working with Fort Smith Public Schools to grow the school to work pipeline with workforce readiness that allows students to graduate high school with a certificate or associate degree that allows them to enter the workforce with a good paying job that could them allow them to afford to pursue a traditional bachelor’s degree program if that is what they want,” Riley said.
At Wednesday’s meeting Riley also presented to the board of visitors a proposal to name the UAFS basketball arena for Gayle Kaundart. Kaundart became the coach of the Westark Community College (now UAFS) men’s basketball team in 1974, a position he held for 13 seasons.
“Under Kaundart’s guidance, Westark became one of the top junior college men’s basketball programs in the nation. The Lions made nine appearances in the NJCAA national tournament, including a run of six consecutive appearances (1977-1982), and won the school’s first national championship in any sport in 1981, beating Lincoln (Ill.) College 67-50,” states information on the UAFS website. He was named NJCAA National Coach of the Year in 1981.
The board all voiced their approval for naming the basketball court the Gayle Kaundart Arena while leaving the center the Joel R. and Barbara Stubblefield Convocation Center. No resolution is needed from the board for the change. The resolution will go before the UAFS campus naming committee for a decision, Riley said.
“(Gayle Kaundart) was very instrumental in helping the youth of this community find direction through sports. I think it certainly would be something that I could be very proud to say that we have a gym named after Gayle Kaundart,” said Eileen Kradel, BOV member.