Enrollment Down in Arkansas, But Graduates Increase at Colleges, Universities

Enrollment dropped last fall at almost all of Arkansas’ 22 two-year colleges and half of the four-year universities, a trend attributed mainly to improvements in the overall economy.

“Enrollment always tends to go up when the economy’s down, so you are starting to see it come down to pre-recession levels,” Shane Broadway, director of Arkansas Department of Higher Education, said last week.

Potential students returning to the workforce is not the only factor that state education officials have detected in the clear, though not universal, trend.

“There have been some changes in federal financial aid that have affected some students and some colleges. They did away with summer Pell, which obviously affected some students,” Broadway said.

Get the Lists: Buy the lists of the state's largest colleges and universities, the list of MBA programs and the list of two-year colleges.

While he said it was too soon to know what enrollment figures will look like in the fall of 2014, Broadway said he expects a continued decline.

Four institutions of higher education reported double-digit drops in enrollment last fall when compared with the fall of 2012: Pulaski Technical College at North Little Rock (down 11.8 percent), Southeast Arkansas College at Pine Bluff (down 13.6 percent), Arkansas Northeastern College at Blytheville (down 14.8 percent) and Philander Smith College in Little Rock (down 16.6 percent).

The total number enrolled last fall was down less than 1 percent, thanks to continued strong growth at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, the state’s largest, and at other for-profit colleges doing business in the state.

Another factor that might seem to be at play — the reduction in the value of the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarships funded by the state lottery — didn’t seem to have much effect on enrollment, Broadway said.

One thing that has changed, according to ADHE data, is the way the lottery scholarships are spent. In the fall of 2010, the first year the scholarships were awarded, they were worth $5,000 a year to eligible students at four-year universities in Arkansas and $2,500 to eligible students at two-year colleges. And that fall, 78 percent of scholarship recipients opted to go to four-year schools.

The next two years, the scholarship values were reduced to $4,500 a year at four-year schools and $2,250 at two-year schools, and recipients were increasingly likely to take the money to a two-year school, where tuition and fees are often half that of a university. By last fall, after the Legislature reworked the formula to favor students who continue their studies and maintain academic eligibility, the share choosing four-year schools had dropped to 72 percent.

The lottery scholarship is now worth $2,000 a year to students at two-year colleges and to freshmen at four-year universities. As university students progress, the value grows to $3,000 a year for sophomores, $4,000 for juniors and $5,000 for seniors.

The state government’s effort to create more college graduates among Arkansas’ population — of which the lottery scholarship is a major part — is showing success, according to ADHE figures.

A total of 38,656 credentials awarded in 2013 by colleges and universities in the state — ranging from certificates of proficiency to doctoral degrees — represents an increase of 26.8 percent since 2009. The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded grew by 18.9 percent during those four years, to 14,157, and the number of master’s degrees was up 41.4 percent, despite a slight drop in 2013.