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FAYETTEVILLE -- Stepped-up recruitment and retention of Arkansas students and an increase in transfers are among the goals of a new academic plan for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

The state's largest university is also set to track out-of-pocket costs for students as it tries to boost student success, according to a plan announced Tuesday.

Fifty-four "actions" for the current academic year will support key priorities developed through a planning process that began last year under Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz, UA's top administrator since January 2016.

"It's time now to focus on the future and the work we will all need to do to achieve the continuous improvement needed to make this university the best it has ever been," Steinmetz said in a statement.

Mark Rushing, a UA spokesman, said in an email that graphs and tables will be published online to track progress on various goals.

The plan calls for UA to "significantly increase recruitment and graduation rates of Arkansans, first generation students and several dimensions of diversity."

Among the actions for this year are fundraising for UA's Advance Arkansas scholarship program, for in-state students with financial need, and implementation of a pilot program to boost student retention, the plan states.

UA saw enrollment increase by about 50 percent from fall 2005 through fall 2015, based mostly on greater numbers of students from outside Arkansas.

Growth has slowed in recent years, and 49 percent of UA's freshman class this fall was from Arkansas, the same percentage as a year earlier, based on preliminary data. Total enrollment, including graduate students, was 27,558.

Steinmetz said last week that he's looking for controlled enrollment growth and to recruit for diversity "across the state."

Rushing said UA's plan to track out-of-pocket costs generally refers to the net amount of tuition and fees paid after scholarships and financial aid.

"We haven't developed the specific number we will track but we know we will be developing a metric for this," Rushing said.

The university reported 1,432 new transfer students this fall, according to preliminary enrollment data, about 6.2 percent of the university's 23,044 undergraduates.

The plan states that UA also seeks to "ease their transitions," moving to create more agreements with community colleges so students can more smoothly earn bachelor's degrees from UA.

Suzanne McCray, vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions, said that to better recruit Arkansans, the university is hiring a recruiter who will live in the West Memphis area. Over a year ago, UA began having a recruiter based in Little Rock, McCray said.

"We're really trying to come to them, to make sure their options are clear," McCray said of Arkansas high school students, adding that this fall a record number of freshmen are from Arkansas, 2,476 out of a total of 5,065.

She said 96 students took part this summer in UA's Accelerated Student Achievement Program for students from the Delta region. A year earlier, 82 students participated, according to Leslie Yingling, UA's associate dean for inclusion.

The program sends low-income students from 26 Arkansas counties to the campus to begin earning college credits before their freshman year.

Arkansans earned 2,622 baccalaureate degrees out of 4,615 total degrees awarded in the 2015-16 academic year, about 57 percent of the total, according to the most recent state-of-origin data available from UA.

However, while no clear trend exists over the past several years, students from Arkansas had a lower six-year graduation rate than students from other states, according to the most recent data from the university, for students entering in fall 2010. UA listed a 62.6 percent six-year graduation rate for Arkansans compared with a 67.3 percent six-year rate for U.S. residents from outside the state.

McCray said in-state students are more likely to receive Pell Grant assistance than students arriving in Fayetteville from other states. Pell Grants are federal funds for low-income students.

"Students who don't have that level of need retain better and graduate in a more timely fashion," McCray said, explaining that differences exist even between students with similar academic backgrounds.

The wide-ranging plan touches on research and faculty goals, as well as a goal to boost graduate student enrollment. Committees began meeting last year to develop what Steinmetz announced last fall as eight guiding priorities for UA.

"I am proud to say that every stage of developing this plan has been a collaboration, with our entire campus working together to set our guiding priorities, and then determine the actions needed to advance each priority and the metrics to track our progress moving forward," Steinmetz said.

Metro on 09/13/2017

Print Headline: UA rolls out 54-task plan for academics

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