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Enrollment down for the second time

Submitted by Jacob Kauffman on September 19, 2013 – 11:18 amNo Comment

Graphic by Byron Buslig

UALR is enacting ten percent budget cuts, issuing a semi-hard hiring freeze, and is crafting plans for academic restructuring. These actions are being undertaken, in large part, as a result of poor enrollment figures this fall while other state universities and the state as a whole are experiencing growth.

At this time only preliminary figures for the 2013 fall semester have been reported but they reveal UALR lags behind most institutions in the state in terms of growth.Those figures show a drop in enrollment of 470 students which amounts to a three to four percent decrease from fall 2012. UALR claimed a 3.8% growth and the U of A  met enrollment goals for 2025 this year. With the exclusion of 2013, UALR has experienced a growth of  7.6 % over a five year period. However, that ranks below nearly every other four year institution in the state over the last five years. UALR has outperformed UCA and UAPB in this category.

At this time, the reason for a drop in growth is unclear but several factors have been suggested. Chancellor Anderson expounded on possible factors in a memo.

“My own strong hunch is that when the dust settles the main explanations will be improvement in the economy and changes in federal student financial regulations that include new limits. UALR’s student body is more sensitive to such changes than the student bodies of some campuses in that our students will take a job or work more hours if the opportunity comes along. For the same reason, their behavior is affected quickly by changes in financial aid policies that make it more difficult to finance their college education.”

A drop in freshman enrollment points to the viability of UALR’s requirement that traditional freshman live in on-campus housing. In response to a query from the Arkansas Times, Judy Williams of UALR’s Communication Office, revealed first time freshman enrollment is down nearly 20% from 847 students in 2012 to 670 students in 2013. UCA’s preliminary fall enrollment tallied claimed a 2.1% growth in freshman enrollment.

The freshman residency requirement is the strictest in the state. It’s the only one to not have an exemption for student’s residing in the city of the institution. Since the release of enrollment figures ,Williams said Anderson is reviewing a possible amendment to the residency requirement that would allow for exemptions within a 25 mile radius. That change would still leave students in nearby Central Arkansas cities like Conway stuck with the requirement.

A memo from Chancellor Anderson on Aug. 23 focused on academic restructuring efforts reveals he sees enrollment issues looming in the future saying “significant challenges” include “declining state support, soft enrollment, competition with other institutions, and a lingering economic slowdown.”

The memo also lists some possible solutions to enrollment uncertainty that address Anderson’s concern about a lack of state support. These options may make UALR less dependent on enrollment figures for funding levels and could prevent sudden future cuts. Anderson called for reducing the number of vice chancellors and altering the role of chancellors to, “promote and protect UALR interests in local, state, and federal government arenas, in donor cultivation, and in other external venues.”

It is hard to measure the effect of other factors like crime statistics and graduation rates on the minds of students selecting colleges. If they do have an effect, it could have hurt. According to the Department of Higher Education UALR’s graduation rate from 2007 through 2012 was 19.3% which falls below every other four year institution in the state and is nearly eight points lower than the next two lowest schools. Arkansas Tech and the U of A place in the top two graduation rates with 46% and 60% rates.

Final fall enrollment figures will be released October 13.

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