Henderson cuts budget

By Debra Hale-Shelton
This article was published May 10, 2018 at 4:00 a.m.

ARKADELPHIA -- Faced with a $3.2 million deficit amid declining enrollment, Henderson State University has begun making staff and other cuts in hopes of balancing its budget in the next fiscal year.

President Glen Jones said Henderson's declining undergraduate enrollment reflects southern Arkansas' shrinking population and higher admission standards. Enrollment at the university has dropped from 3,634 in the fall of 2014 to 3,342 in the fall of 2017.

"So, we're having to look out of state for students ... internationally for students," especially from China, he said.

Late last week, Jones sent an email to employees advising them that the university had eliminated seven staff positions effective June 30. He told the paper that none of those are faculty members and said all laid-off staff had been notified.

The seven positions included the director of international student programs, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette learned Tuesday after repeated requests under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. Among others laid off was the school's finance and administration director.

In the email, Jones said the board of trustees on May 18 would consider reducing the school's matching contribution to a teacher retirement fund from 10 percent to 5 percent and would "reinstate the full benefit in future fiscal years as resources are available."

Spokesman Tina Hall said the university also plans to reduce its adjunct faculty and overload budget by $356,000, or 35 percent. This fiscal year, Henderson has paid $1,017,000 for adjunct and overload instruction, she said. The school employed 127 adjunct teachers during the spring semester, she said.

Adjunct teachers are hired by semester at Henderson, depending on class needs. Adjunct faculty often work on a contractual, part-time basis at many colleges. Overload refers to the pay to professors who carry above-normal class loads.

Jones advised employees that the cuts and recommendations "are in addition to cost-saving measures including a temporary hiring freeze, a reduction of expenditures for supplies and services, and the elimination of nonessential travel."

In addition to international student recruitment, Jones said in interviews, he wants the school to offer more online programs and increase concurrent enrollment. The latter allows high school students to take some college courses.

Henderson has not been "historically active" in those areas, he said. "We're in a time of transition right now."

Jones said he expects a balanced budget in fiscal 2019, which begins July 1, because of adjustments being made this year.

Jones said recently that he did not expect a tuition increase in the fall.

Faculty senate member Carolyn Eoff said Tuesday that it was her "impression that there is a widespread discontent with our leadership."

"I think it is safe to say that this has been a work in progress," Eoff said. "We had a budget crisis last fall. There have just been some decisions over the past few years that have caused people to lack confidence in the direction our administration has taken."

Henderson board Chairman Bruce Moore said he believes the steps taken to balance the budget in the next fiscal year will be enough to steady the university's course without compromising its mission.

"I feel very confident, especially after our budget work session on Friday, that the recommended cuts will be sufficient while not impacting the overall student experience," Moore said.

The university's finances have been hurt by several factors that Moore said aren't "unique to Henderson."

One is "the location, being in southern Arkansas, where it's a little more difficult to recruit students," he said. "There's a lot of competition in the southern part of the state. I think student enrollment has been key."

Hall said that in fiscal 2016 the university pulled $869,245 from reserves to help finance $1,039,113.77 in maintenance and repairs. That included a new roof, asbestos abatement, a new heat pump, new chillers for two buildings, ventilation work, campus lighting improvements and storm damage repairs.

Henderson paid back some of the reserves the following year, Jones said.

This fiscal year, the university initiated what Hall called "a $1,610,628 budget alignment to adjust expenses to available revenue."

The school has closed the deficit for the current fiscal year, Jones said.

On the international plans, Hall said Henderson has worked since October "to pilot a dual degree program through which Chinese students will study at their home campus for two years, then complete a bachelor's degree at Henderson."

"We are currently working with several colleges and universities to explore opportunities in music, English education, business and other academic disciplines," she added in an email. "We expect that this partnership could proceed by Spring 2019 or Fall 2020."

Asked how Jones reconciles this goal with laying off the international programs director, Hall said, "We are in the process of evaluating the specific support that these students will need on campus and will align staffing with that at a later date."

In recent years, Henderson "has changed from open enrollment to a system of conditional and unconditional enrollment," Hall said. "Prospective students with ACT composite scores of 16, 17, 18 or 19 are admitted conditionally and receive additional support from the HSU Academic Advising Center."

Information for this article was contributed by Noel Oman of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

State Desk on 05/10/2018
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