Early Numbers Indicate Record College Enrollment in Arkansas

Enrollment totals for Arkansas colleges and universities should set a new record when official head counts are released next month.

A sampling of student tallies at several public and private institutions of higher education supports that expectation.

Arkansas Tech University in Russellville reported a 4.9 increase in enrollment, marking the 14th consecutive year of record enrollment.

Robert Brown, president of Arkansas Tech, was bursting with collegiate pride when the news was announced earlier this month.

"Our enrollment growth is an indication that our constituents find value and quality in return for their educational dollar at Arkansas Tech," he said. "The more telling fact is that our increases in degree production have outpaced our increases in enrollment growth."

The fall census of students numbered 10,972 split between the main campus at Russellville (8,939) and the Ozark campus (2,033). Among the number are 1,501 first-time freshmen.

For the first time in school history, more than 2,000 students completed degree programs during the 2011-12 academic year.

"There is no question that increasing the percentage of our adult population that holds a college degree is the key to economic development in Arkansas," said Brown, who is starting his 20th year as president of Arkansas Tech.

The school registered one of the highest graduation rates among public four-year universities in Arkansas, 42.7 percent. ATU's rate was second only to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville at 58.1 percent.

Those numbers are tied to students starting classes in fall 2005.

The flagship of the University of Arkansas System reported record preliminary enrollment of 24,537. That reflects a one-year increase of 5.8 percent.

Undergraduate enrollment at the Fayetteville campus reached 20,349 students, a 6.9 percent increase from 2011. The 2012 tally marked the first time the roster of undergraduates topped 20,000 at the school.

The Arkansas Department of Higher Education is still gathering information to track the latest numbers, including retention.

The overall retention rate for students attending four-year public universities is 67.9 percent in a fall 2010 to fall 2011 comparison. That was down from a five-year peak of 69.9 percent in the fall 2008 to fall 2009 comparison.

"We really hope to see a large number that shows up in higher retention rates," said Brandi Hinkle, communications coordinator at the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. "That means that students are making forward progress."

Private Numbers

John Brown University in Siloam Springs submitted its "11th Day" report to the U.S. Department of Education reflecting a fall 2012 enrollment of 2,176, a one-year increase of 2 percent. The recent roll call of JBU students marked the biggest in the school's history.

"We are pleased to see continued, sustained growth in our enrollment," said Don Crandall, vice president of enrollment. "Strong enrollment and retention is evidence of the great people and programs at JBU."

The overall retention rate for the fall 2011 cohort topped 84 percent.

The university is forecasting the October 2012 student count to be 2,230, the difference being that graduate and degree completion program enrollment cycles aren't timed with the traditional undergraduate enrollment.

That projected October census doesn't include 234 students taking classes in JBU's concurrent education program.

Undergraduate enrollment for fall 2012 set a new record of 4,390 at Harding University in Searcy. The one-year gain of 50 students equaled a 1.1 percent increase.

The private school posted an 81 percent retention rate.

Arkansas joined other states in declaring September "National College Savings Month." Gov. Mike Beebe formalized the proclamation in an effort to raise awareness and encourage families to set aside money to help their children pay for post-high school education.

Median family income in 2010 in the U.S. for families headed by a bachelor's degree holder or higher was $99,716, more than double the median family income for families headed by a holder of a high school diploma.