Masks minimize impacts of COVID-19 on ASU campus; enrollment slightly down this fall

by George Jared ([email protected]) 501 views 

For the second consecutive fall term, the main problem facing the Arkansas State University school system is the COVID-19 pandemic. However, chancellors from all schools in the system reported a relatively low number of COVID-19 cases during ASU’s Board of Trustees meeting Friday (Sept. 10).

Arkansas State University Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said 39 students and employees were in isolation and that mask mandates in classrooms and indoor spaces have helped minimize numbers. More than 80% of faculty and 70% of staff at ASU report being fully vaccinated, he added, along with 90% of student-athletes.

“We’re not quite as normal as we would like to be, but we have been as successful as we could be,” ASU System President Chuck Welch said. “We appreciate the effort you took to allow for face coverings. We’re making sure students are as safe as possible and want to ensure they have the best learning experience possible. Overall we’re just pleased it’s not any worse than it is.”

Welch said students have returned to A-State’s Campus Queretaro in Mexico and that residence halls there are full for the first time. The campus had its first commencement ceremony in August with 50 students. Its fall enrollment of nearly 900 students represents a 14% increase in freshmen and a 20% increase overall, he said.

ASU System institutions reported total preliminary 11th day fall enrollment of 25,212, which is 2.1% lower than the fall 2020 preliminary total. ASU total enrollment is flat but with a 4.5% increase in freshmen, as well as increases in transfer and international students. Chancellors noted that enrollment numbers will rise throughout the fall and that traditional 11th day reports are a snapshot in time that don’t reflect changes in traditional enrollment periods.

ASU Three Rivers saw a 27% enrollment increase thanks to 470 new students attending the Saline County Career & Technical Center campus. ASU-Beebe, in partnership with the Lonoke School District, is offering classes and training at the new state-of-the-art Lonoke Business Academy.

Welch and System Executive Vice President Julie Bates reported on improvements in Henderson’s financial condition while acknowledging ongoing challenges such as enrollment and debt. Henderson’s FY2020 audit has been approved and the FY2021 audit is expected in December. The institution paid $250,000 toward its state advance in FY2021, and Moody’s Investor Services upgraded Henderson’s bond rating outlook from negative to stable following the merger with the ASU System. Cash on hand improved from seven days in June 2019 to 38 days in June 2020, while operating expenses decreased from $64 million in FY2019 to $61.9 million in FY2020.

Dr. Tim Langford of Little Rock announced he would be resigning from the board this month as a result of becoming chairman of the Urology Department at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Trustees recognized the service of former board member Stacy Crawford of Jonesboro.

In other business, the board:

• Approved a $1.4 million air handler replacement project at First National Bank Arena and a $2.8 million expansion of the Judd Hill Farmers’ Market at A-State, as well as a $1.2 million renovation of the Caddo Center at Henderson.
• Authorized a plan to sell property on the ASU-Newport campus in Jonesboro for a highway expansion adjacent to the campus.
• Approved a resolution to apply to the Arkansas Department of Career Education for an additional Secondary Technical Center satellite location at ASU-Newport’s Jonesboro site.
• Approved new names for two facilities at ASU Three Rivers: the Barbara Ann Smith Fitness Center and the Parker Family House at 1103 North Park Drive in Malvern.
• Authorized an optional, voluntary retirement program at Henderson for fiscal year 2022 to create financial savings for the institution.
• Approved revised academic standards for admission into Henderson undergraduate programs that include test-optional and conditional opportunities for students.
• Approved ASU-Newport’s request to offer a Technical Certificate and a Certificate of Proficiency in Teaching.