Finding A Way Forward


Finding A Way Forward

Henderson State University has money problems.

The Arkadelphia school is facing a deficit in the millions of dollars and has been taking steps to trim its budget, including salary cuts of 3%, and has borrowed $6 million, interest free, from the state of Arkansas to cover losses. Layoffs are a possibility.

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And now university officials are studying whether to merge with the Arkansas State University System.

The budget woes stem from a number of factors, including declining enrollment and $3.7 million owed to Henderson by students.

These problems shouldn’t be a surprise. College can be ruinously expensive to students and ruinously expensive to schools when their students don’t, or can’t, pay their bills.

As for declining enrollment, Editor Gwen Moritz wrote back in September about the challenges facing the state’s private colleges as they grapple with declining birth rates. These demographic changes will test state-funded higher education as well.

“Predictions for the future of colleges and universities have ranged from dire to merely challenging, depending on how many of the factors are bearing down on a specific institution,” Moritz wrote. [S]mall colleges in states with shrinking populations may find themselves absorbed or out of business.”

Colleges, particularly smaller schools, often have dedicated staff and devoted alumni. And the prospect of Henderson losing its autonomy will no doubt be painful for some. But ASU System President Chuck Welch, who once was president of Henderson State, has been welcoming to the school, saying its addition to the system would be a “significant step for us.”

Henderson is unlikely to be the only smaller institution of higher education in the state facing challenges to its survival. How it handles its fiscal crisis could serve as a model to other schools in Arkansas.