LITTLE ROCK Fall semester enrollment at Arkansas colleges and universities increased 2.1 percent over the same time last year, according to preliminary figures released Tuesday by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.
The report shows 176,114 undergraduate, graduate and credit-earning high school students were enrolled at the state’s public and private two- and four-year institutions on the 11th day of classes.
“Increasing enrollment is important as it’s an indicator of retention, and we know in Arkansas that retention is a barrier to overcome in reaching the governor’s goal of doubling the number of degree holders in the state by 2025,” interim Higher Education Director Shane Broadway said in a statement.
Institutions that showed drops in preliminary enrollment included five public universities, 12 community colleges and three private colleges.
Overall growth was slower than previous years. In the fall of 2010, preliminary enrollment figures were 5.1 percent higher than the previous year’s.
College and university leaders have said poor economic conditions and an increase in state scholarships through the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery have boosted enrollment in recent years.
Some presidents and chancellors attributed the slower growth overall to declining population in portions of the state and higher admission standards at some schools.
The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville topped growth at public universities, adding 8.4 percent to its enrollment for a total of 23,199 students, the most ever.
UA Chancellor G. David Gearhart has attributed the growth to Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarships and efforts to strengthen academic programs.
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff had the greatest decline among public universities, losing 7 percent of its enrollment for a total of 3,187 students.
UAPB Chancellor Lawrence Davis Jr. said the decrease was due in part to rejecting some students with severe remediation needs and “a more stringent policy on payment of fees in advance.”
Lawrence told lawmakers last month that UAPB has $7 million in bad student debt.
“Usually when you make these decisions, you suffer in the short run, but in the long run it will be profitable,” he said.
Enrollment at Arkansas State University at Jonesboro grew 3.8 percent for a total of 13,920 students, making it second-largest in the state. ASU’s undergraduate enrollment grew 0.2 percent, while graduate enrollment grew 12.8 percent.
ASU-Jonesboro Interim Chancellor G. Daniel Howard attributed the low undergraduate enrollment growth to ASU’s efforts to raise admissions standards in recent years.
Next year, prospective students must have at least a 2.5 high school grade-point average and a minimum score of 21 on the ACT college admissions test to be admitted without any conditions.
“We’ve reduced the number of students who need remediation and the extent of remediation they need,” Howard said.
He added that while the increased entrance standards may lower enrollment figures for freshman students, it should result in more retention of upperclassmen.
While the state’s enrollment rates are on par with the region, statistics show many students admitted to the state’s schools in the past have not completed and earned a degree.
Broadway noted that Arkansas’ rate of growth in degree production at its public, fouryear universities is better than the other 15 states tracked by the Southern Regional Education Board for the past two years.
Arkansas’ public four-year universities awarded 9,392 degrees in 2008-09, a 10.5 percent increase from the previous year. But most of the states tracked by the organization awarded more total degrees than Arkansas.
Information for this article was contributed by Kenneth Heard and John Worthen of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.