Freezing all future new hires is on the list for potential solutions to overcome a budget shortfall for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. UA Little Rock Chancellor Andrew Rogerson spoke on this and other potential solutions during a forum on Monday.
According to Rogerson, the university has to submit a budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 to the Board of Trustees next week. While the university does not know the exact amount of the deficit, Rogerson said they expect it to be around $12 million. Rogerson called a cut of that amount for next year’s budget unacceptable. While the decision is ultimately up to the Board of Trustees, the number Rogerson gave the crowded room is a cut of $6 million for next fiscal year.
“That’s going to be tough. And I don’t even know if that’s the final number yet because all of this hedges on what the trustees think of our balanced budget, which will be submitted in a week,” Rogerson said.
Rogerson credited falling enrollment at the university as a large factor for the budget shortfall. He said the drop in full time students this past semester was “particularly worrying.”
“We had an unrealized or an unexpected rather $5.9 million loss just this spring semester alone. Our enrollments are still declining at an alarming rate,” Rogerson said. He said with work the university has done to increase enrollment, the continued drop in enrollment is surprising to him.
“You know I am guilty as your chancellor and I will take the blame. I really would have put money on it that we would’ve turned the enrollment curve by now,” Rogerson said. “We’ve done an awful lot of work in two years.” Enrollment predictions at UA Little Rock are at a one percent decline, according to the university.
Rogerson also talked about the campus climate, and how high school students attending eStem Public Charter High School on the campus has changed the university’s atmosphere.
“I don’t know to the degree that eStem is affecting our enrollment, but I believe firmly, and I’ve been very public about it...I feel it is a factor. It’s a growing factor and come the fall it will be over 600 high school students. It’s exceeding our ability to deal with this coexisting population,” Rogerson said. When asked later about possible solutions to relocate eStem students to eat lunch elsewhere, Rogerson said the school has stonewalled them.
“We’ll remember in December he came and said come January, eStem will be dining in the shopping mall, where they can hang out and have their meals. That plan fell through,” Rogerson said. Another plan involving the student using half of the second floor of Ross Hall also did not work.
The meeting then transitioned to a list of potential actions the university could take to meet a balanced budget with the projected $6 million cut. Near the top of the list was looking into shrinking the number of personnel or positions on campus.
“The perception is, and I would agree that it probably is true, that we are overstaffed in terms of faculty and staff for the size of the university we have shrunk to,” Rogerson said. He stated the university is staffed for an enrollment of around 13,000 students. Current university enrollment is under 10,000.
Other suggestions included freezing the search for more than 35 new faculty members, a modest tuition fee increase, and taking around $100,000 from student services next year. According to Rogerson, the entire list totals close to $11 million in savings, more than potential $6 million the university would need to cut. Furthermore, Rogerson said the list was not finalized and could possibly change. He said figuring out what cuts to make will be a collaborative effort.
“We’re gonna be working on this, trying to get everyone to get onboard and come out of this together and make sure we shore up departments. But we can come out of this leaner and stronger while retaining our mission which I absolutely believe is our future. It’s what distinguishes us from our competition like [University of Central Arkansas] and[Arkansas State University],” Rogerson said.
The university’s proposed budget is due next week. KUAR is licensed to the Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas System. KUAR news retains editorial independence