UAPB chancellor makes case for tuition increase

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff interim chancellor Calvin Johnson pleads the school’s case for a tuition increase Tuesday before the Fiscal Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas System.

The committee will present its recommendations on the tuition increase request by UAPB as well as other schools within the U of A System during a full meeting of the board of trustees on May 23. A vote will be then be taken.

If approved, the 4.9 percent increase will become effective July 1 and will see annual tuition and fees for UAPB resident undergraduates rise from the current $5,518 to $5,791.

Johnson said the increase is necessary.

“We were requesting a 4.9 percent increase to cover fringe benefits for personnel here on campus,” Johnson said Wednesday. “I was asked what we thought about increasing rates on students when their parents and guardians have not received an increase in their wages. I told the committee that we at UAPB have always been conscious of that.”

Johnson said he told the committee members that UAPB is constantly working to keep costs as low as possible.

“But at the same time we have to hire staff,” Johnson said. “The UAPB budget has actually been flat for the past three years. Because of a decrease in our enrollment we had already projected cuts to our budget of $753,000.”

Johnson said the university hopes to get enrollment numbers up from the current 2,500 students.

“We need to get it back up to the break-even point,” Johnson said. “We need to be back up to between 2,900 and 3,000 students. We had a peak enrollment of 3,800 students in 2009.”

Johnson said several factors have contributed to the steep drop in student numbers over the past several years.

“We made a decision a couple of years ago to increase our admission standards,” Johnson said. “Before we had an open enrollment system where anyone who wanted to could enroll regardless of their ACT scores. We had to raise the bar because so many students were enrolling, then dropping out after the first semester or first year. It was affecting our retention rate and our remediation rate.

“The economy hasn’t helped either,” Johnson said. “There is not enough scholarship money to go around. Right at 93 percent of our students are on some kind of financial assistance.”

Johnson said another factor leading to lower enrollment numbers is the continuing drop in population throughout Southeast Arkansas.

“We get the majority of our students from Southeast Arkansas and lower population numbers mean fewer people to select students from,” Johnson said.