The Arkansas State University System Board of Trustees on Thursday (June 8) approved a $338.8 million budget, as well as tuition and fees, for 2023-2024 at its seven institutions.
At a regular meeting on the ASU-Beebe campus, System President Chuck Welch said the overall system budget is 0.4% lower than last year and that system institution budgets remain below pre-Covid levels. Campuses kept increases below both the Consumer Price Index and Higher Education Index inflation levels, he added.
“One of the most challenging and difficult decisions that we ask trustees to make regards tuition and fees,” Welch said. “We have to think about the impact on students and families, but also everyone in the room because through Covid-19 we haven’t been able to reward faculty and staff.”
In most cases the tuition and fee revenue increases did not cover the increased cost of minimal raises for faculty and staff. Campuses reallocated funds and focused on taking care of existing employees rather than adding employees, he said, and tuition rates keep ASU System institutions “in the middle of the pack” when ranking Arkansas four-year and two-year colleges.
Arkansas State in Jonesboro budgeted $210.9 million, an increase of 1.7% compared with last year, with a 4% increase in annualized tuition and fees. Henderson budgeted $41.5 million, which is a decrease of $10 million or 19.4% compared with a year ago, with no increase in tuition and fees. Tuition and fee rates will rise 6.3% at ASU-Beebe, 4.8% at ASU-Mountain Home, 4.3% at ASU Mid-South, 5.7% at ASU-Newport and 6.4% at ASU Three Rivers.
Welch noted that, unlike K-12 school districts, higher education receives no annual state funding increases for salaries, health insurance, capital projects, utilities or deferred maintenance. But he expressed gratitude that higher education in Arkansas has not experienced funding reductions like other states have.
Welch said three days of interviews were completed with three chancellor candidates at ASU-Mountain Home to succeed Robin Myers, who is retiring after 11 years at ASUMH and 34 years in higher education. The search committee will meet next week, and he anticipates a successor being selected and announced soon.
“Robin has been a wonderful leader and brought great things to Mountain Home,” said Welch, who was joined by trustees in paying tribute to his service. “They love you there. You have done a tremendous job.”
A-State Chancellor Todd Shields said progress continues on development of the College of Veterinary Medicine and that enrollment trends are ahead of last fall.
ASU Mid-South Chancellor Debra West described plans for a “Greyhound Promise” program in Crittenden County that will guarantee free tuition starting this fall for first-time college students who have at least a 2.75 grade-point average. The scholarships will pay the balance of costs after financial aid eligibility.
ASU-Beebe Chancellor Jennifer Methvin presented students who shared stories about their educational experiences on campus and pathways to various careers.
In other business, the board approved:
• Various capital projects for energy savings at Arkansas State that will be funded by a loan of up to $2.9 million from the state’s Sustainable Building Loan Fund at no interest.
• Renovation of A-State’s Southern Tenant Farmers Museum project at Tyronza with a grant of $1.9 million from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council.
• The Bloodworth Nursing Building expansion project on the ASU-Beebe Searcy campus. The 6,100-square-foot expansion is mostly funded by a $1.5 million federal grant.
• The final phase of the ASU Three Rivers Ritz Theatre renovation project in Malvern. The college received another $1.26 million from the ANCRC to help complete the restoration.
• An additional $1.2 million phase of the Caddo Center renovation project at Henderson funded by ANCRC to preserve the historic building and provide space for various student services.
• Changes to the Annual Leave Policy in the ASU System Handbook to reflect changes in employee classifications.
• Candidates to serve as members of the Board of Visitors at ASU-Beebe and ASU-Mountain Home.
• A partnership with the City of Jonesboro and Arkansas Department of Transportation to construct a connector road between Red Wolf Boulevard and Arkansas Highway 351. A-State’s contribution will be to provide the right of way necessary on the east side of campus.
• ASU-Newport’s request to enter into a lease agreement with Merchants and Planters Bank for property developed as an apartment complex in Newport to provide housing options for its students.
• ASU-Newport’s request to offer a Technical Certificate in Advanced Manufacturing Technology-Industrial Controls Technician, a Certificate of Proficiency in Corrections and a Certificate of Proficiency in Pre-Health Professions.
• ASU Mid-South’s new faculty rank and promotion policy, as well as programs providing a Certificate of Proficiency in Cybersecurity Specialist and a Technical Certificate in Information Systems Technology.