UPDATE UA, ASU, Tech boards vote to opt out of gun law, raise tuition


LITTLE ROCK — Trustees of Arkansas’ two largest university systems voted unanimously Thursday to opt out of a new law that allows college faculty and staff with permits to carry a concealed handgun on campus.

The governing boards of both the University of Arkansas System and the Arkansas State University System approved the gun ban and also approved tuition increases, as did Arkansas Tech University.

The UA Board of Directors, meeting at UA-Phillips County County Community College at Stuttgart, approved a recommendation by UA System President Donald R. Bobbitt to opt out of the new gun law. The decision affects all 11 campuses within the UA system.

The Arkansas State University Board of Trustees voted in Jonesboro to opt out of the provisions of Act 226, which passed the Legislature this spring and goes into effect in August. The vote affects ASU campuses in Jonesboro, Beebe, Heber Springs, Marked Tree, Mountain Home, Newport and Searcy.

In Russellville, the Arkansas Tech board unanimously voted to prohibit concealed handguns on ATU’s main Russellville campus, its Ozark campus and its satellite locations.

The three universities join five other four-year schools that previously voted to opt out of the law for the upcoming school year — the University of Central Arkansas, Harding University, Henderson State University, Hendrix College and the University of the Ozarks. Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville and East Arkansas Community College in Forrest City also had decided against participating in the law.

Representatives of the state’s two-year colleges and private higher education institutions have said they know of no member schools that plan to participate in Act 226 this fall. Under the law, institutions must vote annually on whether to opt out of provisions of the law.

The UA board also approved a 3.5 percent increase in tuition and fees beginning this fall. The increase will raise average undergraduate in-state tuition and fees to $7,818 for two full semesters, an increase of $246 per student.

While the majority of the four-year campuses will see the 3.5 percent tuition hike, tuition at the UA-Monticello will rise by 4.2 percent, from $5,560 to $5,794, and by 4.3 percent at UA-Pine Bluff, from $5,518 to $5,755.

Tuition and fees at the two-year colleges in the UA System also will rise, with much of the increase from fees going to improve campus security. UA Cossatot Community College’s tuition and fees will rise 9.1 percent, from $2,303 to $2,362, with $150 of that going to campus security. UA Phillips County Community College’s tuition and fees will rise 4.3 percent from $2,736 to $2,855, with $120 of the increase going to public safety.

The tuition at UA Community College at Batesville will rise 5.5 percent from $2,900 to $3,060, with $60 of the increase going to public safety. UA Community College of Hope will see its tuition and fees rise 3.2 percent from $2,346 to $2,421, with $90 of that going to public safety. Tuition and fees at UA Community College of Morrilton will rise 4.2 percent from $3,360 to $3,500, with $80 going to public safety.

UA-Fayetteville Chancellor G. David Gearhart said the tuition and fee increases are the smallest one-year percentage or dollar increase at UA’s flagship campus since 2009, and the third smallest increase since 1998.

“We are committed to keeping tuition as low as possible, to maintain a balance between affordability and high quality,” Gearhart said.

The ASU board approved a a 3.3 percent tuition increase at the Jonesboro campus. The academic excellence fee will rise by $2 per credit hour, and a new facilities fee will be $3 per credit hour. The average cost increase to students will be $165 per semester.

Tuition increases also were approved for the ASU-Beebe campus, 3.5 percent; ASU-Mountain Home, 1.2 percent; and ASU-Newport, 2.3 percent.

ASU System President Charles L. Welch said containing operating costs while trying to keep faculty and staff salaries competitive was key.

“We are keenly aware of the need to minimize the increased financial burden on students and their families,” he said. “But we also must continue to provide … quality educational and campus experiences, and it takes financial resources to be effective.”

The ATU trustees approved a $131.7 million budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year. The budget includes an increase in main campus undergraduate tuition from $187 a student semester credit hour to $199. Tuition and mandatory fees for students taking 30 credit hours in a year will be $6,918, up from $6,528 this year.

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Reporter Mary L. Crider of the Times Record in Fort Smith contributed to this report.