Bill To Merge UCA Into ASU System Drafted, Leads To Study

UCA staff members recently commented on the possibility of starting a merger discussion, after a study by the legislature started to explore merger options.

This comes after Representative Mark Lowery started a discussion in the Arkansas Legislature.

According to Aziza Musa of ArkansasOnline, Representative Lowery drafted a bill that would bring UCA into the Arkansas State University System. He never filed the bill, but instead broadened the idea into a discussion about looking into higher education mergers across the state. The Legislative Task Force to Study the Realignment of Higher Education, headed by Senator Jane English and Representative Lowery, is now studying potential mergers.

Executive Vice President and Provost of UCA Steven Runge said the University has not considered a merger.

“From my perspective, we’ve been around for 109 years. We’ve provided tremendous service to the state of Arkansas and the students that we give educational opportunities to and it’s not anything that we have ever explored. We’re quite proud of our university. We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, and we have not considered it. We feel strongly that we’re doing a good job,” Runge said.

He also wanted to emphasize that the Board of Trustees is very important with discussions of this nature.

“I have not had any conversation with our Board of Trustees about anything related to a merger with another institution. That’s one of the things everyone has to understand, the Board of Trustees makes these kinds of decisions. They’re the final authority on a lot of things for the University,” he said.

Associate Professor Benjamin Rowley had an open mindset when talking about merger discussions.

“I think ideas in general should always be up for discussion. I think this idea may be a good one, but it may also be a bad one. Right now, there are a lot of moving pieces and ‘what ifs’ in the idea. It’s probably too early to say whether it’s a good idea or a bad one as of yet. We need to firm up what some of the options and outcomes are before we decide if it’d be good or bad for both UCA and higher education in the state. But talking about things and getting feedback from people affected, students, faculty, staff and parents, would be essential for drafting a plan like this. It could be disastrous if the affected groups aren’t consulted, which is the easier part, and listened to, which is the harder part,” he said.

Rowley wanted to make sure everyone knows everything is hypothetical.

“I want to re-emphasize first that everything I am describing is in the ‘what if’ category. None of this has been implemented, and just about everything on this idea is up in the air and yet to be determined. To my knowledge, this is just an idea being tossed around right now, not a formalized plan moving forward,” he said.

Rowley also talked about the possible advantages and disadvantages of a merger.

“Again, probably too early to tell for sure. In an idealized situation, we’d see reduction in administration positions needed, which would result in salary savings. There would also be a greater ease for students wanting to shift from one school to another within the state, as they’d all be part of the same system. You might see a more unified and standardized tuition and fee structure from school to school,” he said.

“But therein also lie some of the drawbacks. How do you equalize compensation for faculty and staff at the different institutions? If we’re all part of the same system, it isn’t fair to pay two people with identical job requirements and descriptions quite different salaries. Could bringing people up in salary end up costing the new system more in the end, rather than less? It’s highly unlikely you’d be bringing a bunch of peoples’ salaries down rather than up. Could a more unified and standardized tuition and fee schedule end up causing big increases at some of the state schools? Ones that are currently on the lower end of the scale in tuition? Would that be fair to the students and parents of students at those schools?” asked Rowley.

“Right now, I think it could be a good idea, or a bad idea. We just don’t know enough yet about what might actually be proposed in a bill. We’ll have to wait and see,” he said.

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