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NEWPORT -- The cost of taking courses at Arkansas' second-largest university will go up next year after increases in tuition and/or fees at each of the state's public universities were approved earlier this spring.

Arkansas State University in Jonesboro will still be on the less expensive end of the spectrum among the state's 10 main university campuses, where minimum tuition and fees for in-state students taking 30 credit hours over two semesters range from $7,339 per year (at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith) to $9,592.50 (at Arkansas Tech University, freshmen only).

Minimum tuition and fees at ASU for the average in-state resident undergraduate student in the new academic year will be $8,900, up from $8,607.50 this year, a 3.4% increase.

Often, universities charge higher tuition or extra mandatory fees for certain majors that require more instructional technology or higher faculty salaries, so a student may end up paying more in tuition and fees than the minimum list price.

Tuition rose a couple of dollars per credit hour at three of the university system's four community colleges, and a fourth college added a mandatory fee of $3.

The cost increases are part of a long-term trend in Arkansas and across the nation among colleges and universities, which are increasingly dependent on revenue from tuition and fees to maintain or expand operations. Educational leaders have placed the blame on state funding that hasn't kept up with inflation increases or health care premium increases.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson asked each public college and university not to raise tuition last year, and none did. But this year, only one university -- the University of Arkansas at Little Rock -- declined to raise tuition this year. Instead, UALR raised fees.

Arkansas State University System President Chuck Welch stressed Thursday that his system schools' cost increases for next year are relatively low and that student debt nationwide -- now topping $1.5 trillion and capturing an increasing amount of political spotlight -- is mostly caused by private and for-profit institutions.

He said only 36% of ASU graduates leave school with debt. That's less than other public universities in Arkansas, he said, such as the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and Arkansas Tech University in Russellville.

"I think our students would be hard-pressed to find a better value," he said, than ASU, which he noted is an R2 research university under the Carnegie Classification system (the highest is R1.)

Costs had to rise this year to pay for minimum wage and other required salary and wage increases, Welch said.

"Despite all of that, the total increase in the systemwide budget this year is 1%," he said.

Trustees approved the tuition and fee increases, which Welch introduced to the board, without dissent.

Two trustees -- Tim Langford and Price Gardner -- expressed their gratitude to staff members across the university system for their work on the proposals.

"We are mindful of the real and serious economic challenges of our students and their families," Langford said, but the schools must continue to offer a good education.

"We want to keep and maintain and hire quality faculty and staff, and I think this allows us to keep doing that," he said.

Gardner echoed Langford's sentiment, calling increase in faculty and staff pay as "reinvesting in people" and "something that will pay dividends."

After the meeting, ASU-Jonesboro Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said the higher tuition and fees at his campus is an attempt to keep up with inflation and reward faculty and staff who deserve it.

He still tries to keep the increases low, noting the relatively low increase this year.

"In the end, we all know that access to education is a game-changer," he said.

At Jonesboro, the undergraduate in-state cost per credit hour will rise from $210 to $218, a 3.8% increase. The academic-excellence fee is the only fee increase, rising from $8.25 per credit hour to $10. That makes total fees per credit hour $77, up from $75.25.

In addition to increasing the faculty and staff salary pool by 3% to provide merit raises, the cost increases contribute "enhanced personnel support for academic colleges and institutional programs" and software to "enhance student recruitment efforts, cybersecurity, and fundraising efforts," according to the meeting's agenda packet.

The university will raise room and board rates. Room rates will increase by at least $25 per term for double-occupancy and by at least $35 per term for apartment-style housing. That doesn't include the apartments at Pack Place and The Circle, available through a public-private partnership with Zimmer Development Co.

Unlimited access, seven-day meal plans will go up $140 per term, to $1,950 or $2,050, depending on the declining cash balance plan selected by the student.

At the ASU System's community colleges, costs will go up because of employee pay, namely cost-of-living adjustments at all of the colleges, according to the agenda packet.

Arkansas State University at Beebe will raise tuition for in-state undergraduates from $100 per credit hour to $102 per credit hour. The increase covers the costs of faculty promotions and additional institutional technology support. The college will not raise fees but will raise its meal plan from $1,040 to $1,200.

Arkansas State University Mid-South will increase tuition for in-state undergraduates from $92 per credit hour to $95 to cover merit bonuses of up to 2% and technology upgrades, among other things.

The college will decrease all but three fees that are not mandatory but, rather, are course-specific. The other three fees will increase.

Arkansas State University at Mountain Home will increase tuition for in-state undergraduates from $96 to $98. That covers campus security upgrades, increased scholarships and maintenance.

Arkansas State University at Newport will create a mandatory infrastructure fee of $3 per credit hour.

The college's budget will go up for a new emergency medical services director, another student-services staff member, a deferred-maintenance revenue stream and upgrades to or replacements of equipment.

Metro on 06/07/2019

Print Headline: ASU trustees OK cost rises

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