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The Arkansas State University System said its institutions will keep tuition and fees steady this fall while cutting budgeted expenses by almost $14 million or 5% in anticipation of lower state revenue and possible enrollment losses.
The system’s board of trustees voted Thursday via videoconference to approve a $279.8 million system budget. To hit that number, the system is putting capital projects on hold and scaling back deferred maintenance projects, professional development and travel. It’s also instituting hiring freezes.
“The situation we face today is why we work so hard to build and maintain healthy, financially stable institutions,” System President Chuck Welch said in a news release. “We’ve chosen to make difficult spending decisions rather than use reserve funds. We spared our faculty and staff from salary cuts and furloughs, and we kept tuition and fees steady for students and parents facing financial uncertainty.”
None of the system’s institution will provide overall merit or cost of living raises, though some will provide more pay for faculty promotions. All will comply with the state-mandated minimum wage increase for certain classified employees, according to the system.
On Thursday, Welch called the system budget “very conservative and cautious,” and said the spending cuts, necessary amid uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, would not be sustainable.
Welch said the system opted not to budget state money appropriated in Categories C and D in the Revenue Stabilization Act. He said money provided by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was helpful but did not make up for state budget cuts. The system received about $15 million in CARES Act funds, with the Jonesboro campus getting about $9 million of that money, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
“While we budgeted for lower enrollment to be conservative, our campuses will be working tirelessly to recruit traditional students and adults who want to pursue more education and training for new job opportunities,” Welch said. “Adults who have a two-year, four-year or professional degree continue to fare much better in the job market.”
The system said Arkansas State University in Jonesboro budgeted $203.5 million, a decrease of $5.9 million or 2.9%, with expectations of a $5.2 million decline in state revenue and a $6.2 million drop in tuition and fees.
ASU-Beebe budgeted a $1.9 million or 7% reduction to $27 million. ASU-Newport budgeted a $1.4 million or 8.3% reduction to $16.9 million.
Welch also said that seven student-athletes across three sports tested positive for COVID-19 upon return to the A-State campus and have been quarantined. He said all athletes are being tested as they return this summer, and testing and contract tracing plans for the fall semester are being finalized.
Welch said last month that the system aimed to return to in-person classes on campuses this fall. He said guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Health will be used to plan the return to campuses.
In Jonesboro, Chancellor Kelly Damphousse created seven COVID-19 continuity task forces for his campus, charged with overseeing various operations and making recommendations to the chancellor. The committees are required to complete their work by July 1.
The Arkansas State University System, based in Little Rock, has about 40,000 students on campuses in Arkansas and Queretaro, Mexico, and online.