MENA -- The University of Arkansas board of trustees approved 2023-24 tuition and fees at its institutions Thursday, as well as several new programs -- including a historic engineering degree at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, held the line on tuition, with no increases for in-state students, while the University of Arkansas Grantham -- the system's online institution -- won't raise fees or tuition. The University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Hope-Texarkana are keeping mandatory fees level, while UAPB is raising fees less than a percentage point.
Fees are increasing 4.6% at UA-Fayetteville, while tuition is increasing nearly 7.5% at UAPB. The University of Arkansas at Monticello is raising tuition 6% -- and fees nearly 4%. In addition to keeping fees steady, UALR is also holding down tuition increases, raising it less than 2%.
"My biggest disappointment is we had to increase our mandatory fees as much as we did," said UA-Fayetteville Chancellor Charles Robinson. He added that he is proud to keep tuition stable for Arkansans, although tuition is increasing for out-of-state students. In fact, it's the higher tuition that out-of-state students pay that allows the university to keep tuition as low as it is for Arkansans, he said.
The price per semester credit hour for the typical undergraduate Arkansan will remain the same as last year, $255.51, while the charge per semester credit hour will rise for nonresident undergraduates, from $847.32 to $889.68.
"We are an Arkansas-first institution, and without our out-of-state growth, we wouldn't be able to hold the line on tuition for Arkansans," Robinson said. "We have a brand that extends far beyond our state's borders, and there's no way [the low-tuition model for Arkansans] would be possible without" out-of-state students.
The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith is increasing tuition, but not for students who enrolled prior to the fall of 2022.
UAFS lost a local tax revenue source that had been in place since it was a community college, so the university is having to account for that deficit, said Ben Beaumont, senior director of policy and public affairs for the UA System.
The community sales tax funding provided 10% of UAFS' annual revenue, Chancellor Terisa Riley said.
For students enrolled as of fall 2022, tuition will increase 7.43%, from $5,250 to $5,640. Fees are also jumping, roughly 8%, from $2,734 to $2,953.50.
The fiscal year 2024 budget contains "conservative approaches to future spending," and "we are well-positioned for growth," Riley noted in an email to students and staff. "We have seen growth in first-year student deposits for fall 2023, and record application numbers for on-campus housing, clear indicators of a bright future for our institution despite the sunsetting of the Sebastian County Sales Tax in 2022."
The cost increases at UAFS "were carefully evaluated to coincide with the federal government's 2023 increase to Pell Grant awards, ensuring that our Pell-eligible students should not see large increases to their out-of-pocket costs to attend UAFS, despite these increases to tuition and fee rates," Riley added. "Additionally, after assessing the approved budgets for the other four-year institutions in Arkansas, I am pleased to report that UAFS remains the most affordable campus in the University of Arkansas System to grant four-year degrees."
A third of UAFS students receive student loans, two-thirds receive institutional grants/scholarships -- averaging $5,643 -- more than half receive Pell Grants, and 98% of first-year students receive financial aid, Riley said.
"It's been a very challenging year," as inflation has "eaten into [our] purchasing power," and while he hoped the state Legislature might contribute more funds to the state's colleges and universities to attenuate the financial burden on students -- as happened in some other states -- that did not occur in Arkansas, UA System President Donald Bobbitt said Wednesday. Inflation is also "degrading" the personal budgets of the system's employees, so Bobbitt encouraged chancellors to reward staff with raises.
"Our greatest cost is personnel," and institutions can't let salaries fall too far behind the private sector, lest employees leave colleges and universities for other opportunities, he said. While enrolling more students would provide more funds, enrollment is dropping at most system schools, mostly due to lower birth rates emerging from the Great Recession, and the college-going rate is expected to decline at least 20% in Arkansas by 2029.
The system's schools have found alternative funding sources and become more efficient, but "there are limits to how far you can go with that," Bobbitt added. "[You don't want] to cut to the point where quality is affected."
The engineering degree, which UAPB plans to offer starting this fall, will be the first Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology Inc.-accredited engineering program at a historically Black college or university in the state as well as only the 16th at a historically Black institution in the nation, according to documents presented to the board about the program.
UAPB will need to apply for the ABET special accreditation once their engineering degree program is operational and meets certain eligibility requirements.
According to documents provided to the board, the program will provide companies within the state, region and country with a "pool of qualified employees and potential partnership opportunities."
There's a long list of local and regional companies interested in UAPB graduates with this degree, said Trustee Ed Fryar. "[I'm] very interested in" UAPB offering this degree.
The engineering degree, which will have two tracks -- a construction project management track and an industrial manufacturing track -- is "very much needed," as there's high demand, and it promises high wages, said Chancellor Laurence Alexander. Faculty and staff "have worked on this for a number of years to get it right."
Much of the $2.8 million cost of offering the degree would be covered by funding from the federal Department of Education, Alexander said. The university plans to hire two new full-time faculty members, along with two or three part-time faculty, as the program grows.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects nearly 140,000 new jobs for engineers in this decade, and engineers had a median annual wage of $104,000 in 2021. That was more than double the median wage for other workers.
The university projects 30 students in its first year, adding 35 more in year two and 42 more in the third year. The university has the facilities for this degree, and many courses already exist.
The graduate certificate in forestry business, which UAM plans to offer starting July 1, prepares individuals to work in consulting forestry, forest industry logistics and supply chain management, and finance and investment in forests, according to the UA System. Courses will be in a "hyflex format, simultaneously in person and online."
"We are excited about this opportunity," and this would be "the only program of this nature in the state," said Chancellor Peggy Doss. Students can complete the certification in two semesters, no new faculty is required, and considering starting salaries for those with the certificate range from nearly $80,000 to more than $100,000, it's "a good return on investment" for students.
Through communication with forestry professionals, it's apparent there's increased demand for people with "the skills and knowledge to provide advanced skills in forest management and operations," and Arkansas is the most timber-dependent state in the South, according to the university. "We anticipate 10-20 students per year enrolled in the initial three years, with the same number of graduates per year."
If enrollment and budget goals have not been met after five years for the Bachelor of Science in engineering at UAPB and the new graduate certificate in forestry business at UAM, the programs will be discontinued.
UAM will also offer a certificate of proficiency and a technical certificate in computer information systems by reconfiguring the Associate of Science in computer information systems, following trustees' approval. The university is also deleting the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in health, physical education, and exercise science, a minor in coaching, a minor in health and physical education, and a minor in sociology -- no students are currently enrolled in any of those majors or minors.
A Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity, and offering the Master of Arts in teaching via distance technology at UAPB were also approved by the trustees.
Trustees also approved a pair of new certificates at the Clinton School of Public Service, a public service graduate certificate and a social entrepreneurship graduate certificate. Both will utilize existing courses, so no new resources will be required.