Thursday, December 7, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Since the legislature enacted a law in 2015 that requires Arkansas high schools to offer computer science, the number of students in computer classes has increased by 460 percent.
            In the 2014-2015 school year there were 1,104 students in computer science classes and now there are 6,184, according to the state Education Department. The number of teachers qualified in computer science has grown from 27 to 225.
            The governor made it a priority to expand computer science offerings and the legislature approved Act 187 of 2015 to require all public high schools and charter schools to offer the courses. The act also created a task force charged with recommending standards for the new courses.
            Enrollment in computer science classes grew by 12 percent over last year. Among minority students the participation rate is 39 percent and among females it is 26 percent. The governor and educators said that the gender gap in computer classes should be eliminated and that they would continue working to increase the number of females in computer coding classes.
            At the same time that the growth in student enrollment was announced, the governor and state education officials announced that 12 adults would receive scholarships worth $6,000 at the Arkansas Coding Academy at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.
            Four of the scholarships will go to state employees – one from each Congressional district. They can get paid leave while taking coding classes and must agree to continue working for the state for an additional two years.
            It is public policy to enhance computer literacy among Arkansas students and the state’s workforce, for several reasons. High-tech industries will be more likely to locate in Arkansas if there is a well trained workforce in place. Our brightest graduates are more likely to live in Arkansas if they can find well-paid jobs here, rather than having to move out of state.
            In a related effort, legislators and state officials have been working to provide broadband access to all public schools. Arkansas is one of six states to meet recommended national standards for data transmission. In fact, Arkansas capacity is double the recommended standard. The new network delivers data 40 times faster than the previous one.
New Nursing Program
            The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, in conjunction with two local hospitals, announced the beginning of an accelerated nursing program that will begin in the fall of 2018. It is open to students who already have a bachelor’s degree. They can obtain a nursing degree in 15 months. The program will accept 32 students per semester.
            There is a nursing shortage nationwide, due in part to the aging of the current generation of nurses. The dean of the UAFS college of health sciences said that the average nurse is 56 years old. 
            Nursing schools struggle to meet the demand from potential students because of a lack of faculty and constrained budgets, she said. The nursing shortage is not confined to Arkansas, but is a nationwide challenge. The UAFS program will be similar to 270 nursing programs in all other states.
            The American Association of Colleges of Nurses reported that last year 64,000 applicants were turned down by nursing programs because of a lack of faculty or slots.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Since its creation in 2005, the state’s program to pay for school facilities has paid local school districts more than $930 million and committed to paying $283 million by the end of 2019.
            School districts match the state dollars, and since 2005 the combined amount of spending on new school facilities is $2.54 billion.
            Several types of projects qualify for facilities funding. A common type is construction that makes sure school buildings are safe, warm and dry. Those projects could be new buildings, or they could be replacements of a school’s heating, air conditioning, fire alarms systems or roofs.
            Also qualifying are new facilities made necessary by growth in enrollment. Other projects add space for academics or to convert space into an academic area.
            It is called the Academic Facilities Partnership Program and it is for major renovations and new construction projects, not for general repair and maintenance. For example, projects costing more than $150,000 typically qualify for funding. Another measure is that projects qualify if their cost is more than $300 per each pupil
As a consequence of the Lake View school funding lawsuit, the legislature determines adequate funding levels for public schools every year. The lawsuit was filed by a small, rural school district and it challenged the existing school funding formula as inequitable and inadequate. A court ruling in favor of the Lake View district concluded that not every school in Arkansas had equal opportunities to build, renovate or maintain facilities. 
The court ruled that under the state Constitution, it is the legislature’s duty to provide substantially equal buildings and equipment for academic instruction, even in schools in relatively poor areas of Arkansas.
            In 2003 the legislature created a special committee to study the facilities needs of schools, and in 2005 lawmakers created the funding program.
            The agenda of the Senate Committee on Education had an update on facilities funding, which was prepared by legislative staff.
            Another result of the Lake View lawsuit has been increased statewide funding for alternative learning environments (ALE) in every school district. Students are sent to an ALE for various reasons, such as pregnancy, disruptive behavior and homelessness if those reasons are a factor in the students’ persistent lack of academic progress.
            The state distributes money for ALE to schools in addition to the basic school funding known as foundation aid. This year that amount is $26.4 million, or $4,640 per student in ALE programs. About 5,500 students in Arkansas are placed in ALE classes.
            The state Education Department recommends that no more than 2 percent or 3 percent of a district’s students be placed in alternative learning environments. Some students are in ALE programs for only part of the day and spend the remainder of their time in traditional classes.
            Schools write a specific learning plan for each student, with academic goals and expectations of improved behavior. Last year, about a fourth of the students returned to their school’s traditional classrooms.
            Students in alternative learning environments tend to have lower scores on standardized tests, and to drop out of high school at higher rates than the student body as a whole.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Week In Review


State Capitol Week in Review
November 24, 2017
            LITTLE ROCK – State-supported universities in Arkansas spent $176 million on athletics last year, a 6.3 percent increase over the previous year. Two-year colleges spent $600,000. 
            About 72 percent of the income that was spent on sports came from ticket sales, license fees and sources of athletic department income. Almost $26 million, or 13 percent, of the money spent on athletics came from fees charged to students.
            Universities may spend a certain proportion of their state funding on athletics. Last year they spent $12.6 million in state aid on athletics.
            A state law enacted in 1989 requires colleges and universities to submit annual reports on athletic expenditure to the Higher Education Department. The institutions must use uniform accounting procedures and standard definitions of what amounts to spending on athletics, so that comparisons are valid.
The report on athletic spending in 2016-2017 was presented to the state Higher Education Coordinating Board at its October meeting.
            The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville has by far the largest athletic program in the state. Its total spending on athletics last year was more than $106 million. However, due to the popularity of Razorback athletic events, the university brings in so much revenue from ticket sales, royalties and licensing fees that it does not use any state aid to supplement its sports budget.
            The only other institution that did not transfer from its general education budget for athletics was the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. Its athletic budget was $3.5 million.
            Arkansas State University at Jonesboro spent $18.2 million on athletics, the University of Central Arkansas at Conway spent $12.5 million and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock spent $9.2 million.
            Salaries represent a large proportion of total spending on athletics. All Arkansas institutions of higher education spent more than $62 million last year on salaries in their athletic departments. That was 35 percent of the total amount spent on athletics.
            The Razorback athletic department spent $30.1 million on salaries. ASU athletics spent $4.4 million on salaries. UCA and UALR each spent $2.8 million on athletic department salaries.
            The second largest spending category for university athletic departments was scholarships for players. The statewide total was almost $31 million.
            The Fayetteville campus reported that $9.3 million went for athletic scholarships. ASU reported $5.5 million, UCA $4 million and UALR $2.5 million.
            Other significant expenses of the Razorback athletic program were game guarantees to universities whose teams play at Fayetteville. That item cost the program $3.6 million last year. Debt service cost the athletic program $11.4 million. Team travel cost $9 million. Fringe benefits for personnel cost $6.9 million. Rentals and maintenance of facilities cost $7 million.
            Equipment and uniforms for Razorback players cost $3.6 million. Medical expenses and medical insurance cost the athletic program $1.6 million.
            Ticket sales to Razorback games brought in $40.7 million in revenue. Another $16 million came from the NCAA and Southeast Conference, which distributes revenue from television networks to its members. Broadcast rights for television, radio and Internet streaming brought in $30.1 million. Royalties and licensing, from firms paying for the right to use the Razorback logo and from sales of souvenirs, brought in $14 million.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – When the governor and the director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission journeyed to China and Japan on a trade mission, it underscored how important foreign trade is to the Arkansas economy.
            For example, more than 20 companies have manufacturing operations in Arkansas that employ about 5,300 people.
            Two years ago there were four Chinese companies in Arkansas that hired about 10 workers, but since then our connections with Chinese businesses have changed dramatically. In the past 18 months four other Chinese companies have agreed to open manufacturing plants in Arkansas. Their combined investments in Arkansas will total more than $1.7 billion and they will create about 1,500 jobs.
            According to the AEDC, plants owned by foreign companies employed more than 34,500 Arkansans last year. Most of those jobs were in manufacturing, mainly industrial machinery, food and timber products, metals and transportation equipment.
            The largest foreign-owned companies with Arkansas locations are from the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Switzerland and Canada.
            Exports to foreign markets are important to the Arkansas economy. According to the International Trade Administration, which is a branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce, 2,365 businesses in Arkansas exported goods overseas on 2014. They employed 49,000 people.
Of the Arkansas companies that exported products to foreign countries, 80 percent were small or medium sized businesses.
            The Commerce Department reported that last year the countries that bought the most Arkansas products were Canada, France, Mexico, Japan and China. The top Arkansas products sold abroad were transportation equipment, chemicals, processed foods, machinery and paper.
            Engines and parts for civilian aircraft were a major component of the transportation equipment exported by Arkansas firms. Rice and poultry products, including eggs, were at the top of the list of food products exported from Arkansas.
            About 47 percent of Arkansas exports are to countries which have signed free trade agreements with the United States. The most significant, measured in dollars, is the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Also, Arkansas firms ship products to the Dominican Republic and central American counties under the CAFTA-DR agreement, and to Singapore, Australia and Colombia under separate free trade agreements.
            Almost $6 billion worth of Arkansas products were exported overseas in 2015. The AEDC has offices in Shanghai, Tokyo and Berlin with officials who promote Arkansas as a location for foreign companies looking to expand.
Prison Overtime Pay
            A legislative committee reviewed a request by the state Correction Department to spend an additional $2 million on overtime pay for security officers.
            The money will be transferred from other prison programs. State prison units are working to fill vacancies and retain experienced personnel. Of 4,700 positions 300 are vacant, according to the director of prisons.
            State prisons this year have experienced an alarming number of violent incidents in which officers are injured and in which inmates have been injured or killed. The State Police told legislators they have investigated 28 assaults by inmates on guards this year.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – In its past two regular sessions the Arkansas legislature has lowered state income tax rates and also made significant reductions in other types of state taxes.
            In preparation for the next regular session, in 2019, a panel of legislators is working on further tax reductions. The Senate chairman of the group has said that further reductions of about $100 million a year should be a starting point for income tax reductions.
            The Tax Reform and Relief Legislative Task Force has 16 members – eight from the Senate and eight from the House of Representatives. Its duty is to recommend changes in the state tax code that will create jobs and make Arkansas more attractive to businesses. Also, it will recommend reforms that will modernize and simplify the tax code, while making it fairer for all taxpaying entities within the state.
            During a series of early November meetings at the Capitol, the task force concentrated on the structure of the Arkansas sales tax and our various excise taxes. In December the task force is scheduled to focus on property taxes and will bring in experts from other states that have recently enacted tax reforms.
            Sales taxes are one of the three major sources of revenue for Arkansas state government, along with individual and corporate income taxes. The task force has contracted with a consultant to research our tax structure and compare it with other states.
The research indicates that Arkansas is very near the national average in the percentage of state revenue that is generated by sales taxes. Nationally, the average is 47.5 percent and in Arkansas it is 48.6 percent.
            Sales taxes fall within the category of taxes on consumption. One of the main arguments against over reliance on sales taxes is that they can be regressive, meaning that poor people pay a higher proportion of their income on sales taxes than do people in upper-income brackets.
            On the positive side, sales taxes are economically efficient because almost everyone pays them. They are not collected on two major generators of economic growth, which are capital investment and people’s savings. They do not create a disincentive that dampens people’s motivations to work and earn more.
            The Arkansas sales tax was adopted in 1935 and the current state rate is 6.5 percent. In 1981 the legislature granted cities and counties the authority to hold elections on locally applied sales taxes. Voters in more than 200 of the state’s 500 municipalities, and in 73 of our 75 counties, have approved local option sales taxes.
            Arkansas, like most states, has approved exemptions from the sales tax for specific industries or products. Groceries and medications are commonly exempted, either partially or totally. 
Arkansas exempts motor fuels from sales taxes, which lowered state revenue by $380 million in 2011. However, motorists and truckers paid even more in taxes when they filled their tanks. In 2011 motor fuels taxes on gas and diesel generated $444 million.
            Excise taxes are collected on specific items or activities, such as tobacco, alcohol, tourism and gaming. Nationally, excise taxes generate 16.2 percent of states’ revenues, on average. In Arkansas they generate 13.5 percent of state revenue, or more than $1.3 billion a year.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas State Police is working on changes to concealed carry regulations to enforce the intent of Acts 562 and 859, which the legislature approved earlier this year.
            Act 562 expands the number of locations where a permit holder can legally carry a concealed firearm, such as public facilities. In order to legally carry in those additional locations, the owner of the firearm must complete additional training to obtain an enhanced license.
            Permit holders who maintain the traditional non-enhanced will continue to be prohibited from carrying a concealed firearm in public buildings, schools, colleges, universities, churches, bars and at parades that require a permit. 
            A person who obtains an enhanced permit can legally carry on public colleges and universities. However, even with an enhanced permit it will be prohibited to carry concealed firearms at collegiate sporting events such as football games. Also, it will be prohibited to carry at the State Hospital or the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Also, a student with an enhanced concealed carry may not store a firearm in his or her dormitory room.
            Several areas will remain prohibited, even for holders of enhanced carry permits. Those locations include prisons, courtrooms and public schools from kindergarten through grade 12. There are allowances for school security guards to carry firearms, and private schools can allow permit holders to carry on school grounds.
Churches and bars can allow or prohibit the carrying of firearms on their premises. They can post a written notice, or verbally notify the permit holder that firearms are not permitted.
At a public hearing conducted by the State Police there were questions from instructors, who train applicants in the use of firearms and teach them on the rules that specify where the carry of concealed firearms remains prohibited.
The State Police will accept written comments until 4 p.m. on November 10. The proposed regulations that will implement Acts 562 and 859 can be found on the State Police web site at the address of its Administrative and Regulatory Division: http://asp.ark.org/publications/
The page has a list of bulleted items and the top item is: “Notice of Proposed Rules Changes – Arkansas Concealed Handgun Licensing.” If you click on it, it opens onto the proposed regulations.
After the State Police compiles the public comments and any changes in the new rules, it will submit them to the legislature’s Administrative rules and Regulations Subcommittee for consideration at its December meeting.
About 225,000 people in Arkansas have a concealed carry permit and there are about 1,000 instructors.
Educational Adequacy
            The Senate Education Committee voted to make two revisions to the adequacy report that lawmakers will use in the 2018 fiscal session as the basis for deciding how much state aid to distribute to public schools. They are to add about $2 million for special education catastrophic funding and $3 million for transportation funding.
            The adequacy recommendation for Fiscal Year 2019 is to increase the per pupil foundation rate to $6,781, making the total of state aid to schools more than $3 billion.
            Under the state Constitution, the state has the duty to provide an adequate education to all children in the state, regardless of the relative prosperity of the district in which they live.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Every year Arkansas Medicaid spends about $2 billion to pay for medical treatment and services for about 150,000 people with developmental or intellectual disabilities, mental illness or substance abuse disorders.
            The state Department of Human Services is selecting about 30,000 of the people enrolled in Medicaid for a new program, based on their acute medical needs. The cost of their health care is about $1 billion a year. 
Next year they will become members of new organizations owned by health care providers that will coordinate their care.
            The goal is to improve their health care while also reducing Medicaid costs that are covered by taxpayers. The state and federal governments share those costs. Generally, Medicaid reimburses health care providers on a fee-for-service basis.
The new system going into place in 2018 will generally pay provider groups a fixed amount per individual. Beginning on January 1, 2019, Medicaid will make a “global payment” to the organizations. 
That global payment will cover the cost of care, administration and case management for the 30,000 people who have been selected to join those organizations.
            The Human Services Department (DHS) is calculating a “baseline” amount that Medicaid now spends on the care of those 30,000 people. In 2019, the department’s global payments to the provider organizations will be reduced below the baseline amount to guarantee savings for the state and federal government.
It then will be up to the organization to provide the most efficient types of care to its members, and to provide the most appropriate level of services. The organizations will determine how to apportion financial risk among the providers in its network.
As the new Medicaid system gets established, observers of government and political affairs will have to get used to a new acronym – PASSE. That stands for Provider-led Arkansas Shared Savings Entity, which is the name of the organizations that will coordinate care for the 30,000 Medicaid recipients with acute medical needs.
In September the department began making individual assessments of the 30,000 people to determine which PASSE they will be assigned to, and the level of care they will receive. If a person has a strong relationship with a particular provider, that person will be assigned to the PASSE in which the provider works.
Beneficiaries will be able to change from one PASSE to another, once a year, without having to show cause. However, if they are not getting the care they need, they can change PASSE during the year by showing cause.
DHS officials are confident that beneficiaries will continue to receive good care, while the costs will stabilize. According to a department presentation, well-established research shows that the cost of acute care is minimized by improved case management, because it eliminates duplication and unnecessary care.
The current system has no incentive for providers to keep beneficiaries out of the hospital, or out of expensive stays in an in-patient psychiatric facility. The new system will have such incentives.
Medicaid programs in Minnesota, Oregon and Vermont report cost savings from coordinated care resulting from fewer emergency room visits and hospital admissions.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The number of violent incidents in Arkansas prison units was above normal this past summer, causing the Department of Correction to initiate a three-part strategy to improve safety inside prison walls.
            The department will upgrade security equipment in entrance buildings, as well as in recreation areas. Two incidents at the Tucker unit occurred after inmates escaped through the fencing around their recreation cages and went into other areas of the prison unit.
In one incident, a group of inmates overpowered two security officers and took keys and a Taser. They held the officers for three hours.
In the other incident, a guard fired three warning shots in the air to disrupt a fight in which two guards and an inmate were assaulted.
In all four of the state’s maximum security units, the department will tighten security by building controlled access points at the entrances to barracks. Many inmates are housed in open barracks. A few guards in a securely closed room keep the barracks under observation. This past summer, several violent incidents occurred in the open barracks.
The four maximum security units are at Tucker, Cummins, Varner and Brickeys, in Lee County.
The third part of the department’s plan is to convert about 400 cells now connected to open areas, to make them more secure so they can be used for unruly inmates. Department officials have told the legislature that more space for isolation is needed, to protect inmates from being attacked by the unruly prisoners and to preserve overall security inside the prison units.
The governor supports the plan. He requested that prison officials develop improved safety measures in late September, after three guards were hurt in two separate incidents at two different prison units. 
A guard was assaulted in the maximum security unit at Tucker, and later on the same day a group of inmates assaulted two guards at the Varner unit. All three guards suffered injuries.
A legislative committee has approved the department’s proposal to increase hazard pay at its most dangerous units, in an attempt to fill their staffing vacancies. The Correction Department director told a legislative committee that about 300 positions are vacant, of a total of about 4,700. Part of the challenge of filling the vacancies is that most prison units are in isolated, rural areas.
The legislature appropriated about $350 million for state prison operations this year. The state has jurisdiction over 18,180 inmates, but not all of them are housed in prison units. On any given day, more than 1,000 are likely to be held in county jails, waiting until space is available in a prison unit. About 300 inmates are assigned to work duties in county jails or local State Police headquarters.
Also this past summer, a 25-year-old inmate in the Tucker unit died after he was assaulted by another inmate. Numerous fights occurred throughout the prison system. The director of prisons told the state Board of Correction Department that the number of fights tends to increase in summer, but the increase was sharper this year.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Correction Department houses 18,180 inmates. If it were a city, it would be the 24th largest in Arkansas, but the system is spread across the state in 19 prison units and several other secure facilities.
            About 1,450 will be in the jails of the 75 counties in Arkansas, waiting until space is available in a prison unit. Arkansas has contracted with Texas to house 333 inmates in Bowie County, across the state line from Texarkana. 
About 250 inmates are in county jails under the 309 program. It’s named for Act 309 of 1983, which authorizes state inmates to work clerical and maintenance jobs for counties. Another 61 inmates work at State Police headquarters throughout the state.
            A large component of the prison population, 3,477 inmates, is assigned to the Agriculture Division of the state Correction Department. That is a modern, bureaucratic name for prison farms. 
            Like those in several other southern states, the oldest existing prison units in Arkansas began as farms. The state purchased 10,000 acres for the Cummins unit in 1902. Inmates had been housed on a 15-acre site in Little Rock. The first death chamber was built at Cummins and in 1913 the first inmate was executed there. He was a 21-year-old from Prairie County convicted of rape.
            In 1916 the state bought 4,400 acres for the Tucker prison farm. In 1933 the prison in Little Rock, known as “The Walls,” was closed and all inmates were transferred to the Cummins unit or the Tucker unit.
            For the past 100 years the Correction Department has been accumulating farm property and now has more than 20,000 acres in production. Of those, 14,000 acres are for row crops and 5,200 are pasture for livestock. The prisons have 30 acres of orchard and 650 acres of vegetable garden.
            Arkansas prison farms own 2,400 swine and 462 dairy cows. In an average month, 150 hogs are slaughtered for inmate consumption. Milk production averages 500 to 800 gallons a day. 
            The department hires private contractors for crop dusting and it leases heavy equipment like combines.
            A legislative audit determined that yields in 2015 for wheat, soybeans, corn and sorghum were below average yields in the private sector. However, the yield for rice was higher. Correction officials attributed the lower than average production levels to the lack of wells.
On privately-owned farms there is usually a well for irrigating every 80 to 100 acres, the official told legislative auditors. However, at Cummins there is a well for every 190 acres and at Tucker for every 140 acres. The East Arkansas unit near Brickeys, in Lee County, has row crops and it too has a well every 140 acres.
Legislators pay close attention to the Correction Department’s operations because they account for about $350 million a year in state general revenue. The department has about 4,500 employees, with 64 being paid from farm income to work with inmates assigned to prison farms.
The prison farms are a $20 million operation. In 2015, the year of the legislative audit, inmates consumed $8.7 million of food from prison farms. The farms sold $9.5 million in products. 
According to auditors, the agriculture division would have generated $1.8 million in income that year above expenses. However, it transferred capital assets to other divisions within the Correction Department.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Several Arkansas universities reported record enrollments this fall, while the size of the freshmen class at other institutions has gone down since last year.
            Each campus compiles official enrollment figures on its 11th day of the fall semester. Different universities begin their fall semester on different dates, so not every campus submitted its enrollment report to the Department of Higher Education on the same day.
            The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville enrolled its largest freshman class, of 5,065 new students. This year is the first time the number of freshmen at the Fayetteville campus has exceeded 5,000.
            About 49 percent of the freshmen at Fayetteville are from Arkansas, which matches the rate of last year. The university’s student population has grown remarkably in the past several years, in large part because of an influx of out-of-state students. Total enrollment at Fayetteville is now 27,558. That is a growth of 364 students over last year.
            Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia has also been growing in the past few years, and this fall’s enrollment reflected a couple of records. The freshman class of 870 is the largest ever at SAU and total undergraduate enrollment is a record 3,450.
            Arkansas State University at Jonesboro, Arkansas Tech at Russellville and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock all reported declines in the size of their freshman class. 
ASU enrolled 1,644 new students last year and 1,427 this year. Arkansas Tech enrolled 1,591 freshmen last year and 1,561 this year. UALR enrolled 1,564 last year and 1,325 this year.
The reasons for a decline in enrollment vary, but a major factor is the decision by campuses to raise admission standards and focus on retention of students. 
Arkansas must increase the number of college graduates if we intend to be competitive in the global economy, according to elected officials and leaders in business and higher education.
ASU did report a record number of graduate students, 4,336, and a record number of doctoral candidates, 291. Also, a record number of 663 high school students are taking classes for college credit through the university.
Freshman enrollment at the University of Central Arkansas at Conway grew slightly, from 1,880 to 1,937. University officials were pleased that the incoming class was the strongest academically in university history, in terms of test scores and grade point averages. This year’s freshman class at UCA has an average ACT composite score of 24.3 and an average 3.5 grade point average.
The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith saw an increase of 3 percent in the number of new students enrolling this fall. UAFS now has 1,105 first-time students.
Recruiting more international students and expanding the size of online classes are two methods that have potential for increasing enrollment at several Arkansas universities.
Financial stress is a reason that many students fail to complete their higher education. Academic Challenge Scholarships, which are funded by the lottery, are the state’s most popular program. More than 31,000 students have earned the scholarships since the lottery began in 2009.
Lottery sales in August set a record, because of interest in a very large Powerball jackpot. The Arkansas lottery had total revenue of $49.3 million in August. Of that amount, $8.9 million will go for scholarships.