Teague’s weekly column

By submitted, 06/9/18 7:30 AM

LITTLE ROCK – Legislators and business leaders have made it a priority to encourage more Arkansas students to graduate from college with a degree or a certificate proving that they have learned a core set of job skills.

The overall prosperity of a state depends in large part on the educational level of its citizens.

That was one of the reasons the legislature changed the funding formula for state colleges and universities last year. State aid to higher education will no longer rely so much on enrollment, and instead will be based more on the number of graduates who successfully complete their studies.

After changing the method of funding colleges and universities, the legislature then added $10 million to state aid during the fiscal session earlier this year. The hope is that additional state aid will allow institutions to hold down tuition increases.

In a letter to presidents and chancellors of Arkansas universities, the governor noted that tuition at their institutions had gone up from 3 percent to more than 6 percent a year over the past 10 years. He challenged universities to freeze tuition next year, and he challenged two-year colleges to hold any increase to the level of inflation.

According to a report by the Southern Regional Education Board on the affordability of higher education in Arkansas, “Tuition and fees at both public four-year and public two-year institutions in Arkansas have been growing much more rapidly than either inflation or family income.” That report described tuition increases from 2006 through 2014.

Research indicates that one of the important reasons that students don’t finish college is that they have problems paying for it. Even for students with financial aid, tuition and fees eat up a high percentage of their family’s income.

In the past few weeks, the boards of trustees of higher education institutions have been meeting to set tuition and fees for the 2018 fall semester. The universities have accepted the challenge and held tuition to this year’s levels, but they have increased mandatory fees.

Tuition will remain unchanged at the five four-year campuses in the University of Arkansas system. They are in Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Little Rock, Monticello and Pine Bluff. However, fees will go up at all the campuses. Tuition for the system’s seven two-year colleges will go up, but by less than 2.1 percent.

Arkansas State University in Jonesboro will also hold tuition to current levels, although fees will go up. The ASU system has four two-year colleges, and fees will go up slightly at three of them. ASU Mid South in West Memphis will not raise either tuition or fees.

Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, Arkansas Tech in Russellville and the University of Central Arkansas in Conway will do the same.

State Revenue Report

The state fiscal year ends on June 30. The May report from the Department of Finance and Administration indicates that for the first 11 months of the fiscal year, revenue collections are on a pace to generate a budget surplus of $44 million.

Net general revenue for the year-to-date is about $4.9 billion, or 3.3 percent more than last year.