UAPB, SEARK seek answers for declining enrollment


Fall 2013 early enrollment figures are in for Jefferson County’s two institutions of higher learning and while both report losses for this semester from fall 2012. administrators said the data also provides a bit of good news for both schools.

UAPB

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff reports a total student body as of the 11th day of classes this semester of 2,615 students, which is down from the 2012 figure of 2,828; and the 2011 number of 3,188.

Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander announced a new university initiative with the goal of increasing enrollment to 4,000 students by fall 2015 during his fall convocation address to the UAPB community Tuesday morning.

As administrative coordinator for student affairs, Elbert Bennett is tasked with implementing the nuts and bolts of the enrollment initiative.

“We are only 10 or 12 students off on the number of first-time freshmen this year from last,” Bennett said. “We believe that the bleeding has stopped but we must hold onto the ones that we already have. All of that is going to go towards increasing our enrollment.”

Bennett said a lot of thought has gone into what can be done to increase student numbers on campus.

“We have been working on ways to increase our enrollment very, very hard,” Bennett said. “We were hurt when we had to implement new admission standards that took us away from our old open enrollment roots. We are kind of in the same boat as the University of Arkansas-Monticello; Arkansas Tech; and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. The population decline in Jefferson County has also hurt our enrollment numbers. We used to get so many students from Pine Bluff High School, Dollarway High School, Watson Chapel High School and a few from White Hall High School. That poses a problem for us as those numbers in our traditional recruiting areas are shrinking. We must do a better job of recruiting more students from central Arkansas.”

Bennett said UAPB plans to emulate UAM in offering incoming freshmen one-time scholarships to make up for the reduced scholarships offered by the Arkansas Challenge Scholarship program.

“We believe that the reduction in lottery scholarships amounts had an effect on our enrollment numbers,” Bennett said.

Bennett said the university plans to offer what it is calling “Ambassador scholarships” to high-achieving students from states that border Arkansas.

“We are looking to recruit students with a 21 or 22 on the ACT and a 3.5 grade point average or above by offering them these Ambassador scholarships as a way to offset the added expense of not being eligible for our lottery scholarships,” he said.

Bennett said that in acknowledging the changed environment of federal financial aid availability UAPB is able to focus on coming up with creative ways for students to pay for their tuition even with fewer federal dollars up for grabs.

“Under the federal Perkins loans freshmen receive less money than do upperclassmen,” Bennett said. “Hopefully we can supplement that first year when federal funding is at its lowest. If they do well they will get more funding as they move through the university.”

Bennett said UAPB also plans to beef up its tutorial offerings for students who were conditionally accepted.

“We feel like we are going to be able to meet those objectives laid out by Chancellor Alexander,” Bennett said. “He gave us a tremendous challenge. The alumni and the campus community are going to have to get going.”

Bennett said that alumni are crucial to the success of the university’s plans.

“This year our alumni chapters are sponsoring college days on campus where they charter buses from their localities and bring interested high school students here to see what we have to offer,” Bennett said. “The alumni are also pledging money to provide scholarship funding for students. Everybody is energized and excited with the addition of Alexander as chancellor. We are going to ride this wave of fresh air.”

SEARK

Southeast Arkansas College reported enrollment as of the 11th day of classes for the fall 2013 semester of 1,510 students — which is down from the 2012 figure of 1,879 students, and the 2011 number of 2,180 students.

SEARK President Steve Hilterbran said that despite the drop in overall numbers the amount of total credit hours and full-time equivalents has not gone down significantly.

“The enrollment drop is a trend that we are very concerned about,” Hilterbran said. “It looks like it is a pattern that several schools in the state are experiencing at this time. In discussions I’ve had with presidents of other two-year colleges in the state, we are not the only ones in this situation.”

Hilterbran said part of the enrollment drop is because of a new state law that has had the effect of reducing the number of high school students who are concurrently enrolled at SEARK for certain classes.

“Under the new law instructors must have a master’s degree plus 18 master’s credit hours in the subject that they are going to teach,” Hilterbran said. “Last year we had about 300 students concurrently enrolled but that number has been cut dramatically this year. I do think that the new law is good for the academic integrity of the classes with more clearly defined standards.”

Hilterbran said another reason for fewer students is that some who were part-time students were able to go back to work when the economy improved.

“Our statistics show us that we draw the majority of our students from a 30-mile radius around our campus, versus the university which draws from a 100-mile radius,” Hilterbran said. “So as a college we live and die by Jefferson County population numbers. We are looking at economic development and trying to do what we can to help turn that corner. We want to get more jobs into this area to help Pine Bluff and Jefferson County be what its residents want it to be.”