The Arkansas State University System has voted to approve Henderson State University's recommendation of financial exigency, beginning a process of deep financial cuts that educators say is necessary to save the school.
The four-year university in Arkadelphia will spend the next month developing a plan that includes faculty layoffs and reduced academic programs, Chancellor Charles Ambrose wrote in a letter to university stakeholders. The school expects academic offerings to shrink by 30% to 40% through permanent spending cuts or reallocation. Courses will be cut based on cost, revenue, student success rate, community-based needs and other factors.
Henderson State also plans to reduce the current number of departments and chairs and eliminate the multi-college structure that currently includes the Ellis College of Arts and Sciences, School of Business, and Teachers College. It will instead create one University College.
The school began furloughs and salary reductions last month. Without such cutbacks, it faces a projected shortfall of $12.5 million this fiscal year, which could leave it unable to service debts, pay bills and pay employees.
"With the declaration of financial exigency, we have reached the most difficult part of our efforts to improve our immediate cash position and restore the overall financial health at Henderson," Ambrose wrote in the letter. "The sacrifices that you are making as a campus are enormous."
Henderson State is also moving toward a "learning community model" that broadens its definition of students and education partners. It will focus on P-16 pathways, the system that integrates a student's education beginning in preschool and ends with a four-year degree.
That focus includes academic partnerships with ASU System schools and the community. Henderson State envisions that it will provide experiential learning opportunities in high-demand fields in the region, which will help lower the cost of college, reduce the time to earn a degree, eliminate the skills gap for students and employers, and mitigate the use of student loans to pay for college.
"Learning can take place anywhere and everywhere," the university said in a document outlining its strategy. "A learning ecosystem would be defined by the cradle to career assets across our regions from school to work. Defining Arkadelphia and Henderson as a learning community will provide access to the greatest asset driving economic and social
mobility — talent."
Henderson State had an enrollment of 3,163 in fall 2020. It's the only university in Arkansas with negative operating margins in the state's 2016-2017 and 2020-2021 evaluation periods, according to the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
"Our financial situation requires that we make significant changes to establish a financial flooring that will sustain Henderson’s educational mission for future generations of Reddies," Ambrose said. "These changes bring a high level of uncertainty in addition to the furloughs and salary reductions. Please know that your efforts to serve students and to support each other during this difficult time are appreciated."