Report cites progress made in UALR student services
By Michelle Zengulis, Hillary Perkins and Julius Johnson, contributing writers
An accountability report written in 2010 cited “dramatic progress” toward meeting the goals of the university’s 2005 strategic plan and a look two years later shows further progress has been made in the area of student services – one of the four categories addressed by the plan. The numbers those changes were intended to affect, though, haven’t moved substantially, and in some cases, not at all.
Enrollment, one of the areas student services aims to improve, is down not only at UALR but also at other universities across the state. The only exceptions to the decline are the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and Arkansas Tech University. In 2010, UALR had a record high enrollment of 13,167. But by Fall 2012 enrollment, dropped to 12,208.
The university’s master plan for infrastructure improvements calls for facilities that will eventually accommodate 20,000 students. Chancellor Joel E. Anderson said he thinks that goal is still achievable.
“We have not adopted a goal of reaching 20,000 by a certain year. I do not doubt, however, that someday UALR will grow to 20,000.” The Chancellor said that UALR’s enrollment is stable and that with more jobs requiring a postsecondary education, UALR’s enrollment will slowly begin to increase.
Some of the improvements cited by the 2010 strategic plan accountability report for academic growth include the Science Scholar program, a scholarship program for students majoring in biology, chemistry and earth sciences, the new Engineering and Information Technology college and the dance major to encourage more first-time freshmen high to attend school here which research shows can improve graduation and retention rates. Chancellor Anderson also pointed to two new programs implemented since the 2010 accountability study. He said the bachelors of science degrees in architectural and construction engineering and in e-commerce are also intended to offer prospective students greater choice.
UALR has just hired Dean R. Kalher as vice chancellor of enrollment management and in a university news release cited Kahler’s achievement of “record levels of student enrollment and retention at Western Kentucky University.” In that release, Kahler said, “I do believe I can transfer that momentum to UALR to meet the future enrollment goals.”
Rikki Turner, assistant director for residence life, said that UALR is marketing more of what it has and is starting new initiatives such as the freshman live-on requirement for full-time students.
“I believe the word will get out more and more about what we offer here and will become more of an option to those looking at different Arkansas schools,” Turner said.
Associate Vice Chancellor Logan Hampton said the decline in enrollment is not just happening at UALR. He added that the current economic status and the plethora of universities to choose from in the state are just a coupled of reasons for the decline.
“A solution would be a boost from the recruitment of high school students,” Hampton said.
Hoping to boost future enrollment, the university hosted Discover UALR on Oct. 19, which brought high school students from all across the state to UALR for an open house.
This year, UALR has also started its advertising and marketing Grads at Work marketing campaign that shows UALR graduates and the jobs that they now have.
UALR gets most of its money from tuition and fees from its students. Only 45 percent of UALR’s yearly budget comes from general revenue from the state. The higher UALR’s enrollment, the more money UALR will get from the General Revenue.
Tuition and fees are going up so more students may have to borrow more money. Additionally, a new federal law, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, allows students to receive Pell grants for only 12 semesters instead of 18. The Obama administration believes the change will encourage students to graduate on time.
When asked if enrollment was down because of financial aid issues Robert Adams, the vice chancellor for finance and administration said, “We don’t know if financial aid is the cause, but it is suspected”. To help students with financial aid problems the department has extended office hours and workshops are also available. UALR also offers students help to meet scholarship deadlines and provides common scholarship applications.
UALR’s Private Scholarship Coordinator Stephanie Conrad is working closely with the Financial Aid office to provide scholarships funds for students. Last year 1.2 million dollars in private scholarship money was awarded, according to Bob Denman, associate vice chancellor for development. Denman predicted that amount would increase since there are “lots of big scholarship proposals pending.” Tammy Harrison, the director of the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid is hopeful for additional private scholarships. “We can always benefit from more scholarship funds to help our students meet their educational expenses and reduce loan dependency.”
An additional goal of the academic growth area of the strategic plan called for an increased number of licensed teachers that UALR graduates in five years. Most of the plan’s tactics did help UALR reach this goal according to the 2010 accountability report, though it did cite need for increased attention in some areas, though it was not specific about which areas needed improvement. Since 2010, UALR has added the UALRTeach program which offers students getting a degree in mathematics or sciences an opportunity to get a teaching license.
Anderson praised UALR faculty and staff for the innovation used to achieve the plan’s goals. “I think the progress we have made, relative to the challenges we face, has been remarkable,” but he added that the university must gain momentum by continuing to “find better ways to serve our students.”