More than 800 students have enrolled for the traditional spring semester and the first eight-week term of 2021 at Southeast Arkansas College, meeting 80 percent of the school's target of 1,000 enrollments.
The figure was announced during SEARK's regular board meeting Wednesday morning, which was held virtually. Campus officials expect an increase of the current enrollment, given the campus has introduced a late start term beginning Feb. 1 and second eight-week semester starting March 1.
School President Steven Bloomberg mentioned he's seen more classes operate in person than at any other point during the pandemic, which began last March. The campus is "100 percent" open, he added.
"From a governing body perspective, that's what I want to see," Bloomberg said. "Our strength is based upon our faculty and staff interacting directly with students."
Board Trustee Eddie Thomas asked Bloomberg about the effectiveness of in-person learning versus taking courses virtually, and Bloomberg said students on campus are "100 percent" more successful.
Gina Teel, SEARK's vice president for academic affairs, said more instructional tools have been attained through federal stimulus money and virtual instruction has improved, but she concurred with Bloomberg on the advantage of in-person learning.
It's believed to be the first time in campus history that four terms will begin during a traditional semester, Bloomberg said. Officials say the terms give students flexibility to enroll at a later-than-usual date during the pandemic.
"Our entire campus has to be in sync when we add additional start dates," Bloomberg said. "We all felt a need for students to have enough opportunities to enroll. We're continuing to innovate and be entrepreneurial."
Bloomberg noted the count does not include high school students who are concurrently enrolled at SEARK.
"Our target for the spring is the same as what we set last spring, pre-covid," Bloomberg told board members.
Despite covid-19's impact, SEARK's excess revenue was reported at $965,968 as of Nov. 30, a significant increase from a year earlier, by more than $300,000. The net tuition and fee revenue of $1,622,621 was about $300,000 less than it was a year earlier, a big factor in the college seeing a $332,724 decrease in total revenues to date during the same time span. SEARK reported $4,908,583 in revenues.
"We forecast and we expected that," Bloomberg said of the total revenue decrease. "We were decreasing our budget based on the covid-19 pandemic. We're expending a lot less because of the pandemic. I know of other institutions that are not in as good a financial position as we are."
SEARK's total operating funds of $6,895,278 as of Nov. 30 was $381,429 higher than that date last year.
In other campus news:
• The Arkansas Higher Learning Commission affirmed SEARK for another 10-year accreditation. Bloomberg said SEARK was the first institution in the nation to use a virtual site visit during the accreditation process, given pandemic precautions. Teel was awarded an affirmation of accreditation certificate from Bloomberg for her work in the process.
• SEARK is pursuing a performance energy contract through the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to address infrastructure issues involving its Welcome Center boiler, chillers, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and lighting. Bloomberg said he would address the matter in detail in future board meetings.
• New hires approved from Nov. 1 to Jan. 4 include Lisa Cater as database administrator, and Kesha McCree and Terri Morton as practical nursing faculty members. Resignations accepted include Katina Camp and Tasha Woods from the practical nursing faculty, Russell Carnes and Robert Irving from the biology faculty, and Chad Matthews as adult education grant instructor.