SEARK board deals with economic, growth issues

Southeast Arkansas College’s Board of Trustees met for about two hours Wednesday, primarily discussing economic and growth issues.

The panel — with members Ken Baim and Annette Kline absent — voted unanimously to table until March its considerations of tuition fee increases. SEARK President Steve Hilterbran suggested a hike of $5 per credit hour on nursing and allied health courses and $2 on others.

Trustee Clifford Flowers voiced concerns that such amounts, if enacted, could produce a challenge to some students, noting that 85 percent of SEARK’s current students receive financial assistance in their studies. Flowers said the two-year college should “look at other funding sources instead of putting a burden on students.”

Trustees Marc Oudin and Rebecca Pittillo said they did not regard the proposed increase as excessive. Oudin termed it as reasonable, and Pittillo said it was preferable over a more significant amount. SEARK last enacted a fee hike, also of $2 per credit hour, in the spring of 2012.

“The last thing any of us want to do is place hardship on students,” Oudin said.

Pittillo said trustees would be aided in making a decision on the matter by having additional related data.

Currently, tuition is $82 an hour for all courses. Present enrollment figures are not complete, but there’s an initial 2.4-percent increase over last year at 1,491 to 1,456. The college has 1,054 full-time students, a 4.3-percent hike over last year’s mark of 1,011. The credit hour count among students is 15,815, also a 4.3-percent jump over 2013.

Other than state funding, credit hour fees are the institution’s primary income source.

The trustees also pondered notions of a new logo. Hilterbran said the college’s current abbreviation of SEARK may be seen more as a direction instead of a college. He thinks changing the brand to “SEARC” for Southeast Arkansas College might be helpful for the institution’s identification.

The college’s mascot is a shark.