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Tuition, fees flat at six campuses of ASU System

2.35% rise OK’d for HSU by Jaime Adame | June 4, 2021 at 3:55 a.m.
FILE — Henderson State University is shown in this 2019 file photo.

Tuition and mandatory fee rates will remain unchanged at six of the seven campuses in the Arkansas State University System while rising about 2.35% at Henderson State University after approval Thursday from the Arkansas State University System Board of Trustees.

Tuition and mandatory fee rates at Henderson State are increasing to $9,457.50 annually in 2021-22 from $9,240 for an in-state student taking a 30-hour schedule over the academic year, according to board documents and rate information published on Henderson State's website.

Trustees also approved a change at Arkansas State University to allow undergraduate admission without a minimum ACT score in fall 2022 if prospective freshmen have at least a 3.0 high school grade-point average or a top 20% ranking in their high school class. Students also could gain admission with a minimum ACT score of 19.

Last year, ASU temporarily made its admissions policy test-optional as the covid-19 pandemic affected access to standardized testing, campus spokesman Bill Smith said. In an email Thursday, Smith said the admissions change approved by trustees is "for the foreseeable future."

"Standardized test scores have often been seen as a barrier for many students, particularly among students from underrepresented populations," ASU System President Chuck Welch told trustees Thursday.

Welch said the rise in tuition-and-fee rates at Henderson State is "in large part due to obviously the challenges that have been very public over the last few years." Financial troubles emerged for the Arkadelphia campus as its fiscal 2019 ended with a deficit and cash shortfall. A merger with the ASU System became final Feb. 1.

Some other public universities in the state also are holding the line when it comes to tuition-and-fee increases, but ASU is the largest to do so. Last year, ASU and other ASU System campuses also kept tuition flat, though Henderson State raised its rates a year ago.

"I'm extremely proud of the line that we've been able to hold across our system on the cost of education to our students," said Price Gardner, a Little Rock attorney and chairman of the seven-person ASU System trustees board.

The group met at the Henderson State campus in Arkadelphia. Citing covid-19 protocols, the ASU System announced that members of the public were not allowed to attend in person. The meeting could be viewed on the Zoom virtual platform.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville -- the state's largest university -- is raising its tuition-and-fee costs by 2% for in-state students to $9,572.40 annually for a 30-hour schedule over the 2021-22 academic year. The University of Central Arkansas rates are rising about 2.4% to $9,563 for a 30-hour schedule.

Trustees also approved fiscal year 2022 budgets for the campuses, including a $168.3 million educational and general operations budget for ASU. This marks an increase from the fiscal year 2021 budget of $166.5 million, but is below the $172.2 million budget approved for fiscal year 2020, according to documents from the state Division of Higher Education.

"We did not forecast any enrollment increases," Welch said, speaking of budgets for all campuses. "Obviously, we would hope to see some bounce back from the pandemic, although none of us know exactly what that's going to look like."

Most colleges and universities in the state saw enrollment declines in fall 2020.

Trustees also approved a $50.7 million educational and general operations budget for Henderson State University. The fiscal year 2021 budget for the Arkadelphia campus was $50.9 million, according to documents from the state Division of Higher Education.

Advocacy group the National Center for Fair and Open Testing in April announced that more than 60% of 2,330 undergraduate colleges and universities in the U.S. were not requiring standardized test scores for admission in fall 2022, with many also having dropped the requirement the previous year in response to the pandemic. The group promotes alternatives to standardized tests.

At the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, "we will be test optional again next year" when it comes to undergraduate admissions, said Suzanne McCray, UA-Fayetteville's dean of admissions, in an email. McCray said incoming students must take a standardized test to meet state reporting requirements.

Federal data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows a gap in ACT test scores for different racial and ethnic groups.

The use of standardized testing in college admissions "has been an ongoing discussion at not only Arkansas State but really at universities all across the country," Welch said Thursday.

Before the pandemic, ASU required for unconditional admission a minimum ACT score of 21 and a high school grade-point average of at least 2.75.

The new policy says that admitted students with a high school grade-point average of below 3.0 will enroll in what ASU calls its University College, which includes a "transition studies" program to help students prepare for college-level work.

"It has long been held that high school grade-point average is the best predictor of success in college, and that has been the case when looking at the data for our institution," Welch said.

Documents provided to trustees also stated that ACT score requirements can be "a potential barrier to both traditional and nontraditional students residing within Northeast Arkansas communities."

"Test-optional practices are emerging within the state and nation. Therefore, there is a need for A-State to adopt the practice in order to remain competitive," the board documents state.

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