UA chancellors say tuition, fee hikes justified


LITTLE ROCK — A 10 percent increase in tuition and fees may sound like a lot but it’s not for the university that has the lowest tuition and fees in the University of Arkansas System and among the lowest among the state’s four-year schools, the UA-Fort Smith chancellor told a panel of university trustees Tuesday.

UAFS Chancellor Paul B. Beran and the leaders of three other four-year universities in the UA System presented their tuition and fee increase requests to the UA board’s fiscal committee. The panel took no action Tuesday but is expected to make recommendations to the full board next week.

Also at the next week’s meeting, the board is expected to take up whether schools in the UA system will allow faculty with concealed handgun permits to carry guns on campus under a new state law.

At the request of UA Board Chairman Jane Rogers, institutions requesting tuition and fee increases exceeding 3.5 percent appeared before the committee. Rogers said it would be prudent for the panel to take a close look at each request. UA-Fayetteville, which requested a 3.5 percent increase, did not have to appear.

While each of the four other university’s proposed tuition and fee increases varied depending on funding needs and budgets of the individual campuses, chancellors at each school told the five-member panel that some funding would go to student retention and faculty and staff support.

“With the recent action of the Legislature to lower taxes to stimulate the economy, I think that the state budget is going to become increasingly lean for higher education within the next few years,” Beran told the committee.

UAFS is seeking a 7.5 percent increase in tuition, which would raise the tuition $406 a year for a full time student from 5,436 to $5,842, which equals to an increase of $10 per credit hour. A request for a $140 per semester increase in student fees would bump total tuition and fees for a full-time student to $5,982 a year, or 10 percent overall.

Beran said university’s student government association passed a resolution seeking an increase in student fees to fund construction of a student wellness and recreational facility.

He said the tuition increase would allow for the university to give a small cost-of-living pay adjustment to faculty and staff, as well cover increasing health care costs of employees. It also would help cover increased accreditation fees for academic programs.

UA Trustee Jim Von Gremp told Beran that the median family income in Arkansas is $41,000 and it rises about .2 percent per year, about $82.

“How do we justify to families of students the kind of increase you are asking for?” Von Gremp asked.

Beran said college is an investment in the future.

“It’s not a new car, not a new house, it’s an investment in somebody’s life,” he said.

UA-Pine Bluff is requesting a 4.9 percent tuition increase from $$5,518 to $5,791 a year, or $9.10 a credit hour.

“We continue to make every effort to keep the cost we pass on to students as low as possible,” Interim Chancellor Calvin Johnson told the panel, adding that about 95 percent of all students at UAPB receive some form of financial aid.

While enrollment at UAPB has been dropping for several years and was 2,360 in the spring of 2012, it is projected to rise to 2,700 or more this fall, Johnson said.

Because of the declining enrollment in recent years, the university has made several budget reductions, including mandating a 15-hour teaching load for all full-time faculty, which has nearly eliminated the need for adjuncts, he said. Also, a number of on-line courses have been added, a freeze in travel has been implemented and administrators and faculty have been assigned additional duties. The resulting budget reductions have saved the university $753,000 a year, he said.

In response to Von Gremp’s question on justifying the tuition hike to students and their parents, Johnson said the goal of the university has been to make college education affordable.

“That’s a struggle we’ve had over the years, trying to keep prices, the cost, as low as possible so students could afford an education,” he said. “At some time we don’t have a choice and we have to move up a little.”

UA-Monticello Chancellor Jack Lassiter and UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson also presented the tuition increases proposed for their universities.

UA-Monticello is requesting a 5.4 percent increase from $5,560 to $5,860, and UALR is asking for a 4.9 percent increase from $7,344 to $7,702.

UA-Fayetteville is seeking a 3.5 percent increase from $7,554 to $7,818.

The full UA board is scheduled to meet May 22-23.

University system spokesman Ben Beaumont said UA President Donald Bobbitt has been discussing individually with chancellors at the five four-year schools and five two-year schools about the new law that requires boards of colleges and universities to vote annually on whether to allow faculty and staff with concealed handgun permits to carry a weapon on campus.

Act 226 goes into effect 90 days after the Legislature formally adjourns, which is scheduled for Friday.

Boards at three state schools, Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, the University of Central Arkansas in Conway and Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville have already voted to opt out of the law.