Henderson State gets new chancellor

Exec to start this month, says ‘intense focus’ will be on student retention

Submitted photo of Henderson State University Chancellor Charles Ambrose.
Submitted photo of Henderson State University Chancellor Charles Ambrose.

Chuck Ambrose, formerly the president of the University of Central Missouri, will be the next top administrator at Henderson State University.

Ambrose, 60, will begin Nov. 15 as chancellor, taking over leadership of the approximately 2,900-student campus in Arkadelphia that, after experiencing financial troubles, last year became a part of the Arkansas State University System.

He spoke in a phone interview Tuesday about the importance of students staying in school to complete a degree or other credential.

[DOCUMENT: Contract » arkansasonline.com/113ambrose/]

"When we really think about transforming Henderson and the way we serve students, there will be an intense focus on retention," said Ambrose.

Henderson State's four-year graduation rate of 28% ranked seventh out of the state's 10 public universities mostly enrolling undergraduates, according to data published by the state Division of Higher Education. The data is for the cohort of students who entered in the fall of 2016.

The most recent retention data showed Henderson State as having the state's lowest fall-to-fall retention rate among public universities. The rate was 59.9% for its 2019 cohort of 690 students, down from a rate of 61.3% for its 2018 cohort of 840 students.

From 2010-18, Ambrose was president of the University of Central Missouri, a public university with an enrollment of about 10,000 students, according to federal data.

While in Missouri, Ambrose received a Governor's Economic Development Advancement Award for his role in creating a collaborative campus model known as the Missouri Innovation Campus that involved working with various employers and educational entities.

Jay Nixon, formerly governor of Missouri, in a statement released by Henderson State praised Ambrose as "universally liked and admired" by community members.

"I saw firsthand how his leadership delivered results and got folks working together," Nixon said.

Before his time in Missouri, Ambrose was president of the private Pfeiffer University in North Carolina from 1998-2010.

More recently, from 2018 until March of this year Ambrose led the education foundation KnowledgeWorks, a Cincinnati-based nonprofit that focuses on K-12 education policy and personalized learning practices.

Chuck Welch, president of the ASU System, in a statement praised Ambrose as a "nationally renowned educator and innovator."

"Dr. Ambrose is experienced in creating efficient and sustainable universities that are focused on student success," said Welch, a former president of Henderson State. He called Ambrose "exactly the kind of experienced, visionary leader that we hoped to attract and that Henderson deserves at this critical time in its history."

Henderson State University in fiscal 2019 had an operating loss of $6.1 million in a year where operating costs totaled about $64 million, according to a state Legislative Audit report.

State officials then approved a $6 million loan, the first such loan from the state's Budget Stabilization Trust Fund to a public higher education institution since 2009, when the University of Central Arkansas received such a loan, a state spokesman has said.

Henderson State's former president, Glen Jones, at the time said the financial struggles were tied to unpaid student account balances. Jones stepped down as president in July 2019. State lawmakers held a series of hearings last year about Henderson State's financial struggles.

An interim campus leader, Jim Borsig, began in July 2020. In August, Borsig announced he was resigning because of health reasons.

Ambrose was among three finalists announced last month for the chancellor's job. The other two were Jay Gatrell, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Eastern Illinois University, and Alberto Ruiz, from 2019 until earlier this year vice president for academic affairs at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

In response to a request made under the state's public disclosure law, the Arkansas State University System released a cover letter from Ambrose in which he emphasized certain educational outcomes, including providing "every student the support required to complete college with a degree and/or credentials that prepare graduates to be competitive within today's economy."

Ambrose, in his cover letter, also referred to expanding access to college "with strategies that would positively affect affordability and attainment for an increasingly multicultural population."

Henderson State, compared with other public universities in Arkansas, enrolls a greater share of low-income students, at least based on data for Pell grants, a type of federal financial aid available to students with exceptional financial need.

Henderson State University's percentage of students receiving Pell grants -- 43% -- was the fourth-highest among public, four-year universities in the state in 2019-20, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Ambrose said it's important for students to see that it's "possible to have a high quality experience at a cost that doesn't shoulder you with a lifetime of debt."

He said he and his wife, Kristen, met as students at Furman University, where he played for the soccer team and she was a collegiate golfer. They are avid cyclists who have enjoyed previous mountain biking excursions in Arkansas, he said.

The couple have two adult children and now live in South Carolina.

Ambrose, recently named as a trustee for Furman University, which is in Greenville, S.C., said he intends to be in Arkadelphia by Nov. 15.

"We'll get a fast start," said Ambrose.

He earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from Furman University, a master's degree in higher education administration from the University of Louisville and a doctoral degree in higher education administration from the University of Louisville.

Ambrose will earn a yearly salary of $250,000 and live in Henderson State's Newberry House, the university announced.

A copy of his employment agreement released under the state's public disclosure law shows that he's also set to receive $25,000 in deferred compensation every year, with the amount pro-rated for the current fiscal year, which began July 1.

The university will also provide him with an automobile and may cover the cost of social membership in a country club, the contract states.

His contract runs through June 2024. The contract specifies that Ambrose is granted tenure as a faculty member, and that "in the event of resignation or non-reappointment," he may stay on as a professor of education receiving "compensation comparable to that of a twelve-month faculty member of the same rank."

The contract specifies that Ambrose may be terminated for "just cause," including for violating polices and procedures set by the ASU System's board of trustees.