Higher education notebook

$1M, zero-interest loan OK’d for HSU

A zero-interest, $1 million loan for Henderson State University received approval Friday from the Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The board was tasked with reviewing the “economic feasibility” of the borrowing, the latest step taken to try to shore up the university’s finances.

The repayment period is 10 years, with $100,000 to be paid each year, according to documents presented to the board, and the money will be used to replace the roof of a campus library as well as equipment used to heat and cool buildings on the Arkadelphia campus. The loan source will be the state Sustainable Building Design Revolving Loan Fund.

Financial troubles emerged as HSU ended its fiscal 2019 with a deficit and cash shortfall, which the university’s top administrator at the time described as the result of unpaid student accounts.

The university is set to join the Arkansas State University System, and ASU System President Chuck Welch told board members that work continues to strengthen the university.

“We are far better off than we were one year ago. But this is a multiyear turnaround plan,” Welch said.

A separate presentation to the board on fall enrollment at colleges and universities showed that among public universities, Henderson State had the largest year-over-year percentage drop in enrollment. The HSU campus enrolled 3,163 students this past fall, down 21.5% from the 4,027 students it enrolled in fall 2019.

Dip seen in number of undergraduates

The number of undergraduates attending colleges and universities in the state dropped by 5.7% percent this past fall compared to fall 2019, according to data presented Friday to the Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The 111,125 undergraduates enrolled this past fall was down from the 117,813 undergraduates enrolled in fall 2019, according to totals that excluded high school students taking college courses.

Data presented at the meeting went back to fall 2011, showing the fall 2020 decline to be the largest year-over-year drop in undergraduates during this nine-year period.

But even before the pandemic, there had been a trend of fewer and fewer undergraduates in the state.

Since reaching a historical peak in fall 2011 of 142,442 undergraduates, the state has seen the number of undergraduates decline each year.

However, the state saw a slight uptick in its numbers of graduate students, which increased to 16,152 in fall 2020 compared with 16,112 in fall 2019.

“More than half of our public universities saw an increase in graduate student enrollment from fall of ’19 to fall of 2020,” Sonia Hazelwood, an assistant director with the state Division of Higher Education, told board members.

Looking at total enrollment, among the 11 public universities described in detail in the presentation, only two — the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences — had enrollment increases of greater than 0.1%.

Enrollment at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff increased to 2,668, up from 2,498 students in fall 2019. UAMS enrollment increased to 2,907 students, up from 2,768.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville gained three students compared with 2019, enrolling 27,562 this past fall.

Among the state’s 22 two-year colleges, only one — Arkansas State University Three Rivers — showed an increase of greater than 0.1%. The community college in Malvern saw its enrollment rise to 1,243 students this past fall from 1,150 a year earlier.

5,600 employees in higher-ed get doses

About 5,600 higher education employees had received a dose of covid-19 vaccine as of Friday morning, said Maria Markham, director of the state Division of Higher Education.

Teachers and staff at colleges and universities in the state became eligible Jan. 18 to receive the covid-19 vaccine under state rules.

“We’ve identified 14,268 as essential front-line high risk employees. But we have closer to 30,000 total employees, including student workers and contractors that eventually need to get vaccinated,” Markham said Friday at a meeting of the Higher Education Coordinating Board.

While “a lot of our institutions” have been able to host mass vaccination clinics, Markham added that “we have other institutions who are struggling.”

“The National Guard is helping us at this point identify pharmacies to get the correct number of vaccines in the arms of people on our campuses. So some of our institutions are almost completely there as far as their employees. Others are, you know, halfway there, some have not really even seen started,” Markham said.

Markham said employees have been “very receptive” to getting vaccinated with few opting out of receiving it, but no totals were provided to the board.

UAMS resumes contact tracing

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is once again doing covid-19 contact tracing for colleges and universities in the state.

Maria Markham, director of the state Division of Higher Education, at a meeting of the Higher Education Coordinating Board said the partnership has been “extremely beneficial.”

“We’re very excited that we’ve been allowed to continue that process with UAMS. We certainly have, I think, a more responsive contact tracing experience than the rest of the state,” Markham said.

In early January, a UAMS spokesman said the contact tracing effort for colleges ended at the start of the new year. It had been announced in July as being funded with $5 million in federal coronavirus relief aid.

Leslie Taylor, a UAMS spokeswoman, on Friday said the UAMS covid-19 contact tracing for colleges and universities resumed on Jan. 19.

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