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Arkansas Tech University intends to comply with Gov. Asa Hutchinson's request to freeze in-state tuition at current levels in the coming school year, Arkansas Tech President Robin Bowen said Friday.

The Russellville-based university is the last of the state's four-year universities to signal whether they plan to abide by the Republican governor's request made earlier this week.

The presidents in the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University systems and the presidents of the University of Central Arkansas and Southern Arkansas University said Thursday that their four-year universities intend to comply with Hutchinson's request, while a spokesman for Henderson State University said the university will make every effort to abide by the request.

Bowen said Friday that Arkansas Tech "appreciates and supports Gov. Asa Hutchinson's leadership on performance-based funding for higher education in our state.

"ATU will continue to work cooperatively with the governor's office for the benefit of the people of Arkansas in freezing in-state tuition rates for 2018-19. The challenge to freezing in-state tuition especially impacts Arkansas Tech University, as 92.7 percent of our students are Arkansans," Bowen said in a written statement.

In remarks to the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee about his general-revenue budget for the next fiscal year, Hutchinson on Tuesday called on four-year universities to freeze tuition at current levels and on two-year colleges to limit tuition increases to the consumer price index or below. He pointed out that the four-year colleges have averaged annual tuition increases ranging from 3.03 percent to 6.2 percent during the past 10 years.

Tuition at Arkansas Tech for an in-state undergraduate student taking 15 hours is $3,390 for each semester, and the fees are $1,050 for each semester.

Under Hutchinson's proposed budget for fiscal 2019, Arkansas Tech University would get a $693,692 increase over current funding to $32.9 million. The increase is based on the state's new higher-education productivity-based funding formula. Fiscal 2019 starts July 1.

In total, Hutchinson proposed a $12 million increase in general-revenue funding for public two-year and four-year colleges over current levels, to $745.6 million in the coming fiscal year. The Legislature will consider the appropriation in a fiscal session starting Feb. 12.

The increase includes $9.4 million to help implement the new productivity-funding formula. The remainder, $2.6 million, reflects a shift of funding from the former Crowley's Ridge Technical Institute to East Arkansas Community College, after their merger. Crowley's Ridge's funding had been listed under the general education fund, so the shift to higher education funding appears as an increase in the latter.

In fiscal 2017, which ended June 30, general revenue for colleges and universities totaled $733.5 million and their tuition and fees totaled $929.7 million, according to state Department of Higher Education spokesman Alisha Lewis. Besides the $733.5 million in general revenue, the colleges and universities also received state funds totaling $70.9 million through the Educational Excellence Trust Fund and $24.7 million through the Workforce 2000 Trust Fund, Lewis said.

ASU System President Chuck Welch said Thursday in an interview that the two-year colleges in the ASU System also plan to abide by the governor's request to limit their in-state tuition increases to the consumer price index or below in the coming school year. The ASU System includes four two-year colleges.

UA System President Donald Bobbitt also plans to recommend that the UA board of trustees limit tuition increases at the system's two-year colleges to no more than the price index, Melissa Rust, vice president of university relations for the UA System, said Thursday in an interview. The UA System includes seven two-year colleges.

At the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College, an in-state undergraduate student taking 15 hours pays $1,905 for tuition each semester and $780 for fees each semester. Pulaski Tech's general revenue would stay at $15.1 million under Hutchinson's proposed budget.

Asked what the state Department of Higher Education considers to be the consumer price index figure that the community colleges should use, department Director Mariah Markham said Friday in an email that "the most recent CPI figure I have is 1.8%."

Beyond the 11 two-year colleges in UA and ASU systems, there are 11 other two-year state colleges.

Asked whether Northwest Arkansas Community College plans to abide by the governor's request, "our board of trustees approves any and all tuition changes as part of the budget [and] they have not had a chance to discuss this yet," said Lisa Anderson, a spokesman for the college. Northwest Arkansas Community College's general revenue would remain at $10.6 million under Hutchinson's proposed budget.

North Arkansas College President Randy Esters said in a written statement that he will do his best to comply, but as an independent college, ultimately the decision lies with the board of trustees. North Arkansas College's general-revenue budget would increase by $39,064 to $8 million under the governor's proposed budget.

Ozarka College President Richard Dawe said in a written statement that "we intend to comply with the governor's request but that will be a board of trustee decision when they approve the annual budget." Ozarka College's general-revenue budget would stay flat at $3.1 million under the governor's proposed budget.

National Park College has either lowered or held flat tuition for the last three years and "we are going through the budget process now so the final decision on tuition will not be made until the board of trustee meeting in April," said National Park College spokesman Jeff Weaver.

"As a small independent college, NPC has always budgeted very conservatively and this upcoming year will be no different. We appreciate what the governor is trying to accomplish by keeping college affordable for Arkansas students which is why NPC has kept tuition less than half the cost of Arkansas universities," Weaver said in a written statement.

National Park College's general-revenue budget would remain at $9 million under the budget proposal.

The governor appoints members of the boards of trustees of two-year and four-year colleges.

Information for this article was contributed by Aziza Musa of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 01/13/2018

Print Headline: Arkansas Tech also cages tuition

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