Monday, July 19, 2010

UA Enrollment Rises, but Problems Not Addressed

The University of Arkansas is predicting another record enrollment year for the fall of 2010, but the administration is not addressing the concerns about additional faculty needs or compensation plans for existing staff. Last year the official enrollment was 19,849 for the fall semester. This year more than 20,700 students are expected to enroll. A record number of new freshmen are also expected to choose the University of Arkansas. So far 3,458 degree seeking freshmen have enrolled, an increase of 500 over fall 2009 and well above the 2015 goal of 3,350. The exact enrollment numbers will not be known until the 11th day of the fall semester when the enrollment “snapshot” is taken, as required by state law, but all indicators point to record growth.

“It’s exciting. These numbers are right where we want them to be,” said Chancellor G. David Gearhart. “We know that we can best serve the interests of the students and of the state by growing in the right way. We are attracting talented students from across Arkansas and the nation to our state’s flagship campus. They have heard our message—that we are a Students First university— working energetically and creatively to help them succeed in our classrooms and in the world beyond.”

If the University of Arkansas truly puts students first and wants them to succeed in the classroom, the administration must make the financial commitment to hire additional tenure-track faculty, instead of trying to cover the new classes with part-time adjunct faculty and graduate teaching assistants. Chancellor Gearhart did not announce funding for additional faculty to teach the 900 new students expected.

“We have been preparing for this increase since November,” said Provost Sharon Gaber. “We have expanded the number of sections in core classes to meet the demand. We have renovated residence halls and we are increasing classroom availability. We are also thinking about retention as well as enrollment, adding staff to the Office of Academic Success and to the Office of Financial Aid. We want to be sure students receive support in areas that we know are key to their continued success. We are bringing in students who have great potential and we will do our part to help them realize it.” Although preparing for the increase since November, Provost Gaber said nothing about hiring additional faculty to teach the students. It is commendable that she plans to hire additional support staff, but she should also consider additional maintenance and custodial staff and assuring that current staff are given the raises that they were promised.

Most of the Arkansas students in the incoming freshmen class will have support from the Arkansas Challenge Scholarship Program, funded by the state lottery. Those who do not will be encouraged to apply for the scholarship in the spring. These scholarships have clearly contributed to increases in the number of in-state students, who will likely be joined by a record number of out-of-state students as well, said Suzanne McCray, vice provost for enrollment services.

“The University of Arkansas is becoming a destination school for students across the state and across the country as out reputation grows nationally. Prospective students are much better informed now about the importance of picking the college that is the right fit for them and they are starting earlier and taking longer to make their decision. We benefit from that approach. The more students know about the University of Arkansas the more likely they are to come here. The number of people who visit our campus has tripled. Once students and their families see our facilities, meet with faculty and students, get a sense of the community and the special opportunities we have to offer then they are persuaded.”

McCray said that the enrollment gains are anticipated in every college at the university. The College of Education and Health Professions has already enrolled more students than predicted. The J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering and the Sam M. Walton College of Business will also hit record undergraduate numbers. The Honors College is also expecting to have a record number of students, which is evidence of the quality of the incoming freshman class. The graduate school and law school anticipate small enrollment gains.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

House Passes Education Funds, Gulf Cleanup, and Collective Bargaining for Public Safety Officers

On July 1, the House passed by a vote of 239-182 its version of legislation funding for two critical education programs, FEMA funds to clean up the BP oil spill in the Gulf, and a provision to extend federal collective bargaining rights to public safety officers. John Boozman (R-AR3) was the only Arkansas Congressman to vote against it.

The $10 billion education jobs fund included in the bill would help struggling schools prevent 140,000 layoffs and harmful education program cuts. AFSCME led a coalition of groups in support of the needed education funds. Further, $4.95 billion to pay off most of the Pell grant funding shortfall would protect over eight million college students from having their grants reduced. The bill also provides funding for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster relief, Haiti, the Gulf Coast oil spill, Vietnam veterans suffering from Agent Orange, as well as $701 million for border security, $163 million for schools or military installations, and $50 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program. Domestic needs are fully offset with recessions of unspent funds.

The collective bargaining provision would cover public safety officers, one of the few groups of workers not covered by federal collective bargaining rights. It establishes minimum collective bargaining rights for public safety officers including: (1) the right of workers to form a union and bargain over hours, wages, and terms and conditions of employment; (2) an impasse resolution mechanism, such as mediation, fact-finding or arbitration; and (3) the ability to have these basic rights enforced, including the right of the two parties to sign legally enforceable contracts.