The Arkansas State University System Board of Trustees approved the refunding and issuance of bonds for Henderson State University and Arkansas State University as cost-saving measures.
ASU will refinance three series of bonds with a collective value of $24.4 million, while Henderson will refinance six series of bonds with a current collective value of $42.2 million. The ASU System will not incur any new long-term debt.
Julie Bates, executive vice president of the ASU System, reviewed the system’s audited consolidated financial reports for fiscal year 2021, which now include Henderson since its addition in 2021. Total operating expenses for the system declined by $1.2 million, she said, and no new debt was issued.
Moody’s Investor Services’ outlook for higher education in 2021 was negative due to the pandemic threatening revenues streams, Bates said, but the system was able to cut costs quickly enough to minimize impact and institutions collectively received $48.6 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds.
The ASU System Financial Reserves Policy requires days of cash on hand reporting, and institutions finished with 197 days compared with 172 days in 2019. Henderson has improved from seven days in 2019 to 43 days in 2021 but still is not within the policy minimum.
“The trend is good, and its personal services expenses level has been returned to the lowest level in more than six years with more work to do,” Bates said.
She said challenges ahead for the system are increasing net tuition while maintaining affordability, state funding stability, cost containment efforts, and strategic use of long-term debt and reserves.
ASU President Dr. Chuck Welch said he was at a national higher education conference where he heard many negative scenarios for institutions regarding enrollment and no more federal stimulus funds.
“Many of them used the funds for operating expenses, and we tried not to,” Welch said. “Moody’s has noted the ASU System outlook is stable while nationally is negative. It’s a reflection of what our board has charged us with doing with steps over the last several years with operations. There are significant challenges for the industry.”
ASU-Jonesboro Chancellor Dr. Kelly Damphousse said spring enrollment increased 3.2% over a year ago with record-tying 91% retention from the fall. Enrollment trends for fall 2022 are looking positive, he said.
Dr. Steve Rook, chancellor at ASU Three Rivers, explained a collaborative effort with Henderson that resulted in a $412,000 Arkansas Office of Skills Development grant. The colleges will partner for workforce training in Clark County.
Henderson has entered a period of “shared sacrifice” during difficult times in the world with employee furloughs or salary reductions, Chancellor Chuck Ambrose said.
“We’re in the midst of a process to think differently about program viability and performance,” Ambrose said. “We have a set of metrics to guide work into the future. Some is on a cost basis, but most important are student success outcomes and workforce needs to meet the most pressing demands.”
In other business, the board:
• Approved ASU and ASU-Mountain Home to apply for federal grant funding for biking and walking trails on the campuses.
• Approved ASU Mid-South to set tuition rates for performance scholarship students.
• Approved ASU-Mountain Home to grant two easements to the city of Mountain Home.
• Approved Henderson to donate property located on its campus to the Arkansas Department of Transportation for highway improvements.
• Approved Henderson to name the playing field at Carpenter-Haywood Stadium “GeoSurfaces Field.”
• Approved modification of the system’s board of visitors policy regarding timing of appointments.
• Conferred the designation of Trustee Emeritus to Dr. Tim Langford for his service to the board. He served on the board from 2014-2021, including a term as chair.
• Approved ASU-Beebe to offer a technical certificate and a certificate of proficiency in teaching.
• Approved ASU-Mountain Home to name the disc golf course on campus the “Kenny and Laura Newth Disc Golf Course.”
• Approved ASU-Beebe to name the flag plaza on the ASU-Beebe Heber Springs campus the “Charlotte Lacy Flag Plaza.”