UAFS seeks higher tuition, fees to pay for cost-of-living increases

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 737 views 

To come closer to a balanced budget and help pay for faculty and staff cost of living increases, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith will again ask the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees for permission to raise tuition and fees more than the generally accepted amount.

The tuition and fee increase proposals were presented to the UAFS Board of Visitors during its regular meeting Wednesday (April 17). The board of visitors must give consent to the increase before it can go to the system board, UAFS Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley said at the meeting. The board of visitors unanimously agreed that the increases are acceptable and needed.

The UA System board’s budget guidelines ask that its institutions limit raising tuition and fees by more than the Higher Education Price Index (HEPI). This year’s HEPI index is 4%, Riley said. The UAFS board of visitors approved a 6.22% increase in tuition and fees Wednesday. The increase, along with UAFS’ 2025 budget, must be submitted to the UA System board by the end of April. The matter will come before the board at their May meeting.

“As you will recall, last year, we had to bring our tuition and fee increases to you because we were requesting an increase that went above the rate that was allowed by our board of trustees initially. This year, we are doing the same,” Riley told the board of visitors.

For the 2023-24 school year, UAFS raised tuition and fees by 7.49%, the largest increase the university had instituted in years. The HEPI index rate for FY 2024 was 5.2%. Carey Tucker, UAFS vice chancellor of finance and administration, said UAFS is recommending to the board of trustees that the university increase undergraduate, instate tuition for new students by $10 to $198 a credit hour.

“This is driven by a lot of reasons. As you know, we had a budget deficit last year. We have cut that down as much as we possibly can this year, and we’re on that track. But to do that, we are going to have to increase our tuition rate,” Tucker said.

The tuition increase will help give cost of living raises to employees. The $10 increase will net about $700,000 for the year, Riley said. A 2% cost of living adjustment for all employees plus the benefits that go with that will cost the university about $800,000, Riley said.

“In trying to keep our rates low, we have not given an increase (in salary) this year. It has been a very difficult year. To say that morale was good would be a lie,” Riley said. “We have not been able to make market adjustments, merit pay, and obviously no cost of living increases in the past year. We really need to do that. This increase would allow us to do that and to keep good people.”

Along with the tuition increase, the university seeks to raise the student health fee by $1 a semester, the athletic fee by 50 cents per credit hour, the technology fee by 50 cents a credit hour, the infrastructure fee by $2 per credit hour, the library fee by 25 cents a credit hour, the facility fee by 50 cents per credit hour and the instructional technology fee by $1 per credit hour.

Tucker said UAFS also plans to institute a new “academic success” fee, which will help to support the writing center. That fee will be $3 per credit hour. UAFS currently has a grant that pays for the writing center, which is there to help all students, but that grant will run out in September, he said. Though the university is applying for a renewal of the grant, the fee will help support the center in the event the grant is not renewed, he said.

“To put it into context for you, $1 and change (in fees) will give us a net revenue of about $70,000,” Riley said.

The university is lowering some tuitions. Undergraduate, out of state tuition is proposed to change from $474 to $400 per credit hour. Undergraduate international student tuition is expected to drop from $497 to $400 per credit hour. And graduate international student tuition is proposed to go to $633 per credit hour, the same rate as graduate out-of-state tuition. Tucker said this will make UAFS more competitive in the recruitment of out-of-state and international students.

Total tuition and fees for the 2024-25 school year for an in-state undergraduate new student carrying 30 credit hours for the year (a full-time student) would be $9,128 ($5,940 for tuition and $3,188 for fees), Tucker said. This is $534.50 or (6.22%) more than last year. For a graduate in-state student, the tuition and fees will go up .85% to $10,674 average for a semester.

Riley said she believes that even with the increases in tuition and fees, UAFS would still be less expensive to attend than the University of Arkansas at Monticello, the university that is the closest competition to UAFS in terms of cost. This would keep UAFS as the most affordable four-year college in Arkansas, she said.

“We know that even with a 6.22% increase will keep us at a lower rate total than Monticello, which is the nearest competitor we have. They will still be about $200 more a year, with 30 semester hours, than we are,” Riley said. “The truth is this is a perk for all of us because we want to be able to provide the most affordable education and allow access to higher education to students in our region.”

About 52% of the UAFS students are Pell Grant eligible. Students who are fully Pell eligible receive $7,395. That amount could go up in fall, though Riley said she wouldn’t count on it, since Pell Grants went up in 2023 by about $500 a year. If you take the total tuition and fees of $9,128 and take out the Pell Grant, you are left with $1,733 that those students have to pay for the year, Riley said.

UAFS also will be able to provide more foundation scholarships this coming year along with the typical institutional scholarships, Riley said.

“Our foundation board last fall made the decision to make a higher investment into scholarships. … It really meant we were going to be able to go from about $3 million dollars of available scholarship funds to closer to $4 million,” Riley said.