LITTLE ROCK — Lower than anticipated tuition-hike recommendations will force some budget reductions and, in some cases, possibly layoffs, University of Arkansas System chancellors said Wednesday.
The UA Board of Trustees on Thursday will consider recommendations from its fiscal committee on requests for tuition and fee increases from UA campuses statewide. During a conference call Tuesday, the panel voted on recommendations to present to the full board, including increases that were lower than requested for some four-year schools in the system.
The committee will recommend tuition and fee increases totaling 4.3 percent for UA-Pine Bluff, down from the 4.9 percent the school requested.
"For the most part, I’m going to try to do it without laying off, but at some point in time … we’re getting very close to the time we’re going to have to make some decisions about some programs and some people," UAPB Chancellor Calvin Johnson said.
UA-Fort Smith Chancellor Paul Beran said he does not expect layoffs, but spending reductions will be implemented across his campus as a result of the panel’s recommendation. UAFS requested a 10 percent overall increase — 7.5 percent in tuition and 2.5 percent in fees. The fiscal committee voted to recommend a 3.5 percent hike in tuition only for the Fort Smith campus.
The fee increase, which was supported by the university’s student government association, would have funded a new student wellness and recreational faculty.
The university will have to wait on a new campus wellness center, and "we’ve already looked at … other ways we can scrub the budget," Beran said.
The committee is to present its recommendations to the board during a meeting Thursday at UA-Phillips County Community College in Stuttgart.
The fiscal committee met with Johnson, Beran and chancellors UA-Little Rock and UA-Monticello last week to discuss their proposed tuition increases. UA Board Chairman Jane Rogers requested that institutions seeking tuition increases exceeding 3.5 percent appear before the panel to explain their proposals. UA-Fayetteville, which requested a 3.5 percent increase, did not have to appear.
UAPB, which has a current tuition rate of $5,518 for a full-time student taking 30 hours of credit a year, had requested a 4.9 percent tuition hike to $5,791. The fiscal committee voted to recommend a 4.3 percent increase to $5,755.
"It won’t be enough, but we’re happy they gave at least some consideration to our request," Johnson said Wednesday. "We’ll have to go back and make some additional cuts in our budget to comply with the amount."
Johnson told the fiscal panel last week that UAPB has made several budget reductions in the past year, including mandating a a 15-hour teaching load for all full-time faculty, which has nearly eliminated the need for adjuncts. Also, a number of online courses have been added, a freeze in travel has been implemented and administrators and faculty have been assigned additional duties. The resulting budget reductions have saved the university $753,000 a year, he said.
"We have a a few adjustments we made in salaries and positions and we’ll probably have to take another look at those," he said Wednesday, adding that the university will "probably have to do without some of those positions that we feel are critical, but we can’t have them all, so we’ll have to make some cuts in those areas."
Asked what critical positions might be cut, Johnson said each department, or school, has a number of positions that need to be filled. Needs are presented as the budget is being developed, he said.
"We’re talking about cutting mostly in the personnel area," he said, adding that vacant positions would go unfilled and some layoffs could occur.
On the bright side, Johnson said student recruitment appears to be working because the university, which has seen its enrollment drop in recent years and was 2,360 last spring, is projected to rise to 2,700 or more this fall.
For UAFS, the fiscal committee said it wanted to see more information on the proposed wellness center. Beran said he would present more detailed plans to the panel this fall.
With the fiscal committee’s recommended tuition hike, a full time UA-Fort Smith enrolled in 30 hours would see tuition increase from $5,436 a year to $5,627.
Beran said he had hoped to give 2 percent raises to all university employees, but with the lower-than-anticipated tuition hike recommendation, only classified staff will receive raises.
"They haven’t had a raise in three years," he said.
Budget reductions for supplies and travel will be considered, as well as letting some vacant staff positions go unfilled next school year, he said.
"My goal is not to just say we’re going to cut X percentage across the board," he said. "We have to look at what programs and things do we need to support appropriately and then what things can have less priority. I don’t see anyone losing their jobs."
He said the school also would look at enhancing recruitment after experiencing a slight decline in enrollment.
"We’re still well above 7,000 students, but we did have a small dip in students over the last couple of years … so we’re going to work diligently at building those numbers," Beran said. "We’re the most affordable university in the state, so I think we’ll be able to recruit students."
He said UAFS might benefit from the Legislature’s recent reduction in the lottery scholarship from $4,500 a year for students at four-year schools to a tiered system of $2,000 for freshman, $3,000 for sophomores, $4,000 for juniors and $5,000 for seniors.
"Potentially, the new structure, because we’re less expensive, the new structure … may play to our advantage some," he said.
The fiscal committee will recommend a 3.5 percent tuition increase for UALR, which had requested a 4.9 percent increase. UALR’s current tuition for a full time student is $7,344 and would rise to $7,601 with the recommended increase.
The panel voted to recommended a 4.2 percent tuition increase for UA-Monticello, which had requested a 5.4 percent increase. With the new recommendation, UAM’s tuition for a full-time student would rise from $5,560 to $5,794 a year.