The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Southeast Arkansas College both endured a significant drop in student enrollment between the fall 2011 and fall 2012 semesters, while the University of Arkansas at Monticello saw a slight increase, a report produced by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education shows.
• UAPB student enrollment fell 11.3 percent to 2,828.
• SEARK’s enrollment dropped 15.4 percent to 1,841.
• UAM’s overall student enrollment rose six tenths of one percent to 3,945 while the participation of high school students taking college level courses jumped 29.1 percent, according to the ADHE report.
The ADHE recorded for-credit enrollment and full-time equivalent enrollment numbers as of Sept. 21 for all Arkansas universities, colleges and nursing schools.
UAPB Interim Chancellor Calvin Johnson has formulated a plan of action to turn around the drop in enrollment experienced by the university this fall.
“We know that we must turn these numbers around,” Johnson said. “We need to recruit more students and to do that we are taking a close look at how we are recruiting. We also have to look at student retention. We are losing more students than we would like to lose but of course the loss of any student is too many. We are losing too many.”
Johnson said that part of the problem is a shortfall in financial aid.
“The Parent Plus loans require some kind of commitment from the parent for the loans,” Johnson said of the loans which require the parents to have good credit to qualify.
“We also had to take a closer look at admission requirements,” Johnson said. “While we are an open door institution we have to monitor those who will be successful in college.”
Some have speculated that lower enrollment may have been caused by the University of Arkansas System audit of the Harrold Dorm Complex earlier in the year. Although issues were raised regarding spending, several employees were terminated and a State Police investigation was conducted, the prosecuting attorney didn’t find grounds to file charges.
When asked if the fallout from the issue had any bearing on the lower student numbers, Johnson had a two part answer.
“I think in some cases where people who were not already familiar with the university had to make a decision on whether to attend UAPB it probably made an impact but for those who were already familiar with the university I don’t think it had as much of an impact,” Johnson said. “We have determined that we are going to get past that.”
Johnson said that the university is preparing to inaugurate an enrollment management team at the beginning of the spring 2013 semester to provide a focused look at issues affecting the number of students at UAPB.
“The team will pay close attention to the things that are causing students to choose other schools or to drop out once they are here,” Johnson said. “We plan to have the team in place by January.”
Johnson said that he is working with the university community to get them to understand the relationship between student satisfaction and their desire to stay in school.
“The UAPB Alumni Association is helping with scholarship dollars for our students and is continuing to recommend students,” Johnson said. “We are taking a very close look at online courses and programs. These will help students who cannot physically transfer here by allowing them to take courses online. We have also had two meetings with ministers in this community and they are committed to helping us in any way that they can. This will help to build capacity at the university.”
“I think all of this bundled together will help us to make a difference in terms of enrollment,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that partnership with SEARK and with the area public schools is a necessity for the future academic success of young people living in and around Pine Bluff.
“We are looking at providing advanced placement courses for high school students,” Johnson said. “Most institutions of higher education in the state have some participation of this type. We are looking at that as an avenue to work with the public schools. I’m convinced that the university will find it difficult to get where it needs to be unless the public schools come along with us. It reduces the need for new college students to take remedial courses and speeds up their graduation time. It is a win-win situation if we can start working together. I will spend some time working with public school leaders to make this happen.”
SEARK President Steve Hilterbran believes that the college’s numbers slump is the product of larger national trend.
“We think there are a lot of reasons for the drop,” Hilterbran said. “It is a nationwide problem. Part of it is the economy. Businesses are kind of holding onto their money and families are holding onto their money as well. It is an unusual economy in that many times people go back to school when the economy is not doing well but that has not been the case this time.”
Hilterbran said that another contributing factor is the lower number of students graduating from area school districts.
“Our primary life blood comes from the Pine Bluff, Watson Chapel, and Dollarway school districts,” Hilterbran said. “Those schools are all down in their enrollment. When you couple that with the slightly tougher scores required to get into college you get lower numbers. We knew this was happening back in June when we had received about 200 less applications than usual for the fall semester.”
Hilterbran said that the college is working aggressively to address the issue.
“We have reorganized internally,” Hilterbran said. “We have a revised recruitment plan and we’re going to try to have a lot more contact with area schools and to maintain the classes that we already offer in the public schools. We are working very hard to retain the students that we have. That is how we are hoping to hold our own and to try to increase our enrollment.”
Hilterbran said that the college is planning to offer more of its condensed eight week courses.
“During the course of the regular 16 week semester we are able to offer two eight week courses,” Hilterbran said. “If a student can’t start in August then they can start in October. We plan to do that in spring as well. These courses cover the same material as a 16 week course in half the time so they are for our better students and those with jobs and families who need to finish their studies and get their degree sooner.”
Hilterbran said that SEARK offers courses to high school students that give them both high school course credit as well as college credit.
“The program is fully accredited,” Hilterbran said. “They are given a college transcript and the credits are fully transferable. There is also a new way that we can do this that was piloted by two schools in the state last year. We will be able to help high schools teach remedial courses which will help the students to take care of their remedial work prior to attending college and will count towards their high school graduation. My understanding is that we can go forward but we probably won’t try to implement it until the fall of 2013.”
“We intend to get everybody together and see if this is what people want,” Hilterbran said. “The program will eliminate the need for students to take remedial courses in college and will give them high school credit as well. The public schools, SEARK and UAPB all need each other. We’ve got to make this a seamless system.”
UAM Chancellor H. Jack Lassiter is pleased with the efforts of the university to reach a wider student base.
“We had a small growth in student enrollment this year with 24 more total students this fall than we had last year,” Lassiter said. “We have had higher enrollment numbers every year for the past 10 years. Our faculty are working a lot harder on retaining students and the students we get are a little better prepared for college than in the past. We have worked with our developmental or remedial students to get them through remedial Algebra and remedial English and on into college Algebra and composition.”
Lassiter explained that UAM offers high school students in the Monticello area who are admitted to the university while still in high school what are termed pre-freshman level courses for concurrent high school and college credit and offers the Arkansas Early College High School program through the Southeast Arkansas Education Service Cooperative.
“We are the lowest cost four year institution in the state of our size and students and parents are responding to that,” Lassiter said. “We are more affordable than Southern Arkansas University or Henderson State University. We feel good about the number of students that we have and hope it will remain there. We have extended our recruitment area and in doing so have made potential students a little more aware of where Monticello is and of what we have to offer.”