Heeding Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s January 2018 call to freeze tuition at in-state colleges and universities, the UCA Board of Trustees approved for no increase in tuition, but did sanction a 2.66 percent increase in undergraduate fees and a 2.31 percent increase in graduate fees for the 2018-19 fiscal year.
“This increase is expected to generate approximately
$2.2 million in fee revenue,” said Diane Newton, vice president for finance and administration, in an email. “This revenue will be applied toward the technology refresh, facility maintenance and debt, Student Health Center operations and success initiatives.”
For full-time undergraduates registered for 15 hours a semester, the increase in fees is a jump of $227 from the cost of fees in the 2017-18 fiscal year.
Some fees saw sharp hikes from last year. Since the 2017-18 year, the technology fee rose by 60 percent, from $7.50 per credit hour to $12 per credit hour, due to the cost of Wi-Fi improvements and a network refresh.
“We have had the Wi-Fi improvements,”
Student Accounts Director Chad Hearne said. “There is the necessary network refresh as far as infrastructure campuswide that is going to be rather expensive. I would think most students realize that we probably were a little behind on technology, and we’re trying to improve that.”
The facilities fee experienced a 14 percent uptick from last year, rising from $12.50 per credit hour to $14.25.
“In several years, we’ve had a lot of new buildings,” Hearne said. “The costs of running the buildings, the infrastructure to keep those buildings up, all of that increase over time.”
The Writing/Retention fee has had its name changed to the Student Success fee. Like the Writing/Retention fee, the Student Success fee will fund the Academic Success center, the Writing Center and wages for tutors.
“[The name change] just gives a more clarification as to what that goes for. As Writing/Retention, everyone just thought it was something to do with writing,” Hearne said. “We’re increasing it because the budget is needed there for greater retention. We’re putting a lot of dollars into recruitment. We also need to put dollars into retention. Beefing up the Student Success fee and getting those dollars to increase their budgets over there allows them more resources to be able to help students and to help us better retain them.”
The last time the university ushered in a tuition freeze was during the 2014-15 fiscal year, but with an added freeze on fees. A tuition freeze helps make education more immediately affordable to students and helps lower-income students reach graduation, but it also strains university operations.
“Freezing tuition limits the potential income to impact general operating lines, like salaries, fringes and supplies necessary for operation inside and outside the classroom,” Newton said.
Like public colleges and universities nationwide, in the past 20 years, UCA has been relying more heavily on tuition and fees to finance its operations, rather than state funds. The last time state appropriations exceeded tuition and fees was in the
2003-04 fiscal year.
“For the last 34 years, I’ve been in finance at five four-year public institutions in two states,” Newton said. “When I first started in higher education in Arkansas, our budgets were funded at over 80 percent from state appropriations. Currently our total operating budget is funded at just over 30 percent from state appropriations.”
State disinvestment in higher education is a nationwide trend that is projected to continue. For the first time, student dollars now exceed state appropriations in most states, amounting to a total of 28, according to a 2018 study by the State Higher Education Executive Officers.
“I don’t have all the answers, but I do believe the universities and elected officials will continue to keep this conversation at the forefront of each legislative session,” Newton said.
Table by Sophia Ordaz