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story.lead_photo.caption FILE PHOTO: Students at the University of Arkansas Little Rock makes their way to and from classes on foot and by bike along a shaded pathway on campus September 2014 in Little Rock. - Photo by Stephen B. Thornton

University of Arkansas at Little Rock leaders are bracing for a $12 million shortfall for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, Chancellor Andrew Rogerson told faculty and staff members Monday.

Rogerson plans to submit a budget next week to the University of Arkansas board of trustees that would include $6 million of cuts to expected expenses and leave a nearly $6 million deficit.

The cuts are meant to preserve educational offerings and circumvent reducing existing faculty and staff, Rogerson told a room of hundreds of faculty and staff members Monday afternoon. Some remain skeptical that the cuts won't affect educational offerings because they could include the freezing of vacant faculty positions.

The shortfall is larger than last year's $9 million shortfall, but the suggested cut is smaller.

The shortfall comes in part from a drop in full-time students, Rogerson said. The number of credit hours taken dropped 12 percent from last spring, leading to a $5.9 million tuition revenue loss. The university has about 400 open beds in housing, where students are all full-time, compared with 1,400 beds total on campus, he said. That's another $600,000 loss in housing revenue.

"We will have to continue to shrink until enrollment grows," Rogerson said.

UALR had the fifth-largest enrollment among the state's 11 public universities in fall 2018 with 10,515 students, according to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

Rogerson said his office gets complaints about students being frustrated with the enrollment process.

"We're doing something wrong," he said.

The university has imposed a spending freeze until the end of fiscal 2018-2019, facing a $2 million shortfall.

UALR, one of only five Carnegie-classified "doctoral" universities in Arkansas, is struggling to attract students.

The university has lost a fifth of the enrollment it had in 2010, when its student population peaked at 13,176, according to Arkansas Department of Higher Education comprehensive reports. That has perplexed university leaders and troubled faculty members who want Arkansas high school students to recognize UALR as one of the state's top universities.

The administration has blamed the economy's improvement and the recent addition of eStem Public Charter High School to the university campus' south end. Others say the school simply hasn't marketed itself well enough against the growing blitz of recruitment by other Arkansas universities looking to increase their own student populations in the face of stagnant state funding.

Since 2010, the university has faced budget shortfalls and cuts, hiring freezes and some uncertainty about the immediate future of the school, which is one of only three in the state with a Carnegie classification of "high" or "very high" research activity. (The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville is classified as "very high," and Arkansas State University in Jonesboro was recently promoted to "high," joining UALR.)

At a faculty and staff forum Monday, Rogerson rattled off a list of ideas he and university system leadership, including President Donald Bobbitt, had come up with to address the $12 million shortfall. He stressed that he did not want any cuts that would affect the academic mission of the university.

He said he worried cutting the university's budget by $12 million would prevent the school from maintaining that mission. He said he would suggest a budget with $6 million worth of cuts and a nearly $6 million deficit that he hopes university trustees "will let us ride."

Rogerson said he expects to hear back from trustees in two weeks on whether his proposed budget is satisfactory, although the next board of trustees meeting isn't for another 4½ weeks.

A hiring freeze for the $4.7 million worth of open positions would provide most of that, he said, while adding that some open positions may end up being considered "essential" because of their impact on education directly provided to students. Some departments may be able to get by using adjunct faculty rather than hiring a professor, he said.

Not filling positions that can be expected to be vacated next year could save the university another $1.7 million, he said. He called not filling positions the "compassionate way" to reduce staffing costs.

"The perception is, and it's probably true, that we are overstaffed for the number of students we have now," Rogerson said.

The university saved $4 million last year by not filling 90 positions, he said. Current vacant positions are in varying stages of being filled.

Other reductions could come through reducing visiting faculty members, who are noncontract, single-year hires, Rogerson said. That could save the university $872,000. Miscellaneous budget trimmings could save another $400,000. Reducing the provost's instructional reserve could be another $300,000. Reduced enrollment already saves the university $500,000 in scholarship funds, Rogerson said.

New software will help the university track its funding better, he said.

One audience member asked if the cuts would affect administration, too. Rogerson said administration were unintentionally left out of cuts last year but would have to take them this year.

"In the cuts that he was identifying, I'm not optimistic that that's not going to cut academic programming," said Amanda Nolen, president of the faculty senate and a professor in the school of education.

"They [departments] were counting on filling some of these positions to be able to just run their programs," Nolen said.

Further, the university has a high population of first-generation, part-time and transfer students who require more expensive wraparound services.

Nolen and others stressed the opportunities the university provides students that other colleges in Arkansas don't.

Being located in the most populous city and region, near an Air Force base and offering a plethora of night classes for those who may work during the day puts the university in a unique position to succeed in marketing its opportunities to students, leaders have said. But it's not succeeding.

Nancy Tell-Hall, a public history graduate student, told Rogerson at the forum that her grandchildren don't find the university to be accessible or engaged with students.

Her oldest granddaughter said she didn't feel like the university had a connection with the community. Tell-Hall suggested the university get more involved with high school counselors to get more of their students to come to UALR.

"Because they're out there," she said.

Rogerson said staff members must remember that some students are scared, and said he's asked staff members to mentor students.

"We have to do a better job of helping our students," he said.

Rogerson said complaints about basic services, such as advising, should not make it to his office, but they do.

"The students really need the support," said Mark Baillie, an assistant chemistry professor and director of STRIVE, which helps educate teachers on how to teach science, technology, engineering and math skills to students.

Baillie said the university would be doing things soon to address student retention.

The university will participate in the Mobile Summer Institutes on Scientific Teaching, which will educate 35 faculty members on teaching STEM to students. At UALR, Baillie said, the training will focus on teaching to students of diverse backgrounds.

Rogerson recently sent out drafts of plans to address enrollment and recruitment. He plans to form one committee for each plan and accept stakeholder feedback.

Already in the past few weeks, the university has restructured its student affairs office and hired more staff members to work at various points of the enrollment process, including a marketing professional "who can better brand the university," Rogerson said.

In the meantime, he's contemplating a new plan to address one on-campus frustration -- the presence of eStem students dining in the university's student center.

Earlier this year, the university system presented the charter system with a lease to use several classrooms and offices on the second floor of Ross Hall for lunch. The school has rejected the lease.

That's after the schools realized an empty shopping center space owned by the university south of campus would be too expensive to bring up to fire code.

"I don't have a plan three," Rogerson said.

A Section on 04/23/2019

Print Headline: $12M shortfall ahead, UALR's chancellor says

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