Lawmaker questions need for two PB colleges


LITTLE ROCK — A Pine Bluff community college that began as a vocational-technical school may be siphoning students from the four-year state university in the same city, a legislator suggested Wednesday.

Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, questioned the logic of having the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Southeast Arkansas College so close together and offering many of the same freshman and sophomore level courses.

“I’m trying to understand what the Legislature had in mind when it allowed SEARK to build there in the first place,” Walker said. “Obviously, there was not a motivation to strengthen (the university).”

Walker said during the meeting he planned to address the relationship in the upcoming legislative session.

“There’s just no justification for having a competitive institution with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff there, where there is perhaps a Sub silentio motivation to elevate it to equal or superior status in Pine Bluff,” Walker said in an interview after the meeting. “That is not right and I’m sure it’s part of the motivation of the people who elevated SEARK to a junior-college status.”

Asked if he planned to file legislation to have SEARK closed, he said no, adding, “It was a vo-tech school and we need vo-tech education.”

UAPB’s enrollment fell 11.3 percent to 2,828 this fall, while enrollment at the two-year school fell 15.4 percent to 1,841, according to the state Department of Higher Education.

The Legislative Council and the Joint Budget Committee spent Wednesday reviewing budgets of the University of Arkansas System and some of its four-year and two-year schools.

During a review of the UAPB budget, Interim Chancellor Calvin Johnson told lawmakers the university is trying to address its high remediation rate for incoming freshmen. Eighty-five percent of first-year students at the school require remedial courses.

He said a number of programs have been implemented and more are being developed to try and bring down the rate. He also said the university is working with high schools in the region to help implement programs to improve their college-readiness classes.

Rep. Johnnie Roebuck, D-Arkadelphia, expressed concern with the high rate and noted that UAPB spends about $3 million annually just on remediation classes.

UAPB’s current budget is $21.5 million and the university is requesting an increase to $23.4 million for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

While presenting the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith’s budget, Chancellor Paul Beran said two masters programs are being developed and could be presented to the UA Board of Trustees within the year.

UAF has been a four-year school for 10 years and currently offers only bachelors degrees.

Beran said the the masters degree programs would be in hospital administration and health care management.

UAF’s budget for 2012-2013 is $20.2 million and it is seeking an increase to $23.2 million in 2013-2014.