De­clines are re­ported in col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - OPINION - ••• Edi­tor’s note: Arkansas Sen­a­tor Ce­cile Bled­soe rep­re­sents the third dis­trict. From Rogers, Sen. Bled­soe is chair of the Pub­lic Health, Wel­fare and La­bor Com­mit­tee. CE­CILE BLED­SOE Arkansas Sen­a­tor

LIT­TLE ROCK — All state-sup­ported col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties have turned in pre­lim­i­nary en­roll­ment fig­ures to the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment. This fall, the 11 four-year uni­ver­si­ties and 22 two-year col­leges in Arkansas are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an over­all de­cline in en­roll­ment of 1.7 per­cent.

The numbers are tal­lied on the 11th day of the fall se­mes­ter, when state­sup­ported cam­puses had a to­tal of 146,752 stu­dents en­rolled. A year ago the to­tal was 149,326. In 2012 the to­tal was 157,151.

Two-year col­leges ex­pe­ri­enced the ma­jor­ity of the de­crease. Since last year en­roll­ment at col­leges has gone down 3.8 per­cent, to 46,615 stu­dents from 48,467 stu­dents. In 2012, to­tal en­roll­ment at pub­lic two-year col­leges was 59,786.

En­roll­ment at two-year col­leges fluc­tu­ates ac­cord­ing to the gen­eral eco­nomic con­di­tions in Arkansas. When the econ­omy is in a slump and jobs are scarce, young peo­ple tend to en­roll in col­lege to gain job skills and im­prove their ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties. Con­versely, when the econ­omy picks up and com­pa­nies are hir­ing, they leave school and get jobs.

Since 2012, en­roll­ment at four-year uni­ver­si­ties has in­creased slowly, although not too steadily. Five years ago there were 97,365 stu­dents in four-year uni­ver­si­ties in Arkansas. Last year the num­ber ex­ceeded 100,000 for the first time and this year it is 100,137. This year’s en­roll­ment is down 0.7 per­cent from 2016. En­roll­ment also dropped slightly in 2015 com­pared to 2014.

There are 13 pri­vate col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties in Arkansas, and they also have seen a drop in en­roll­ment. Last year they had a to­tal en­roll­ment of 16,524 and this year it is 16,043.

Two nurs­ing schools sup­ported by hos­pi­tals had en­roll­ment in­creases of 15.2 per­cent. How­ever, their to­tal en­roll­ment this fall, 734, is still well be­low what it was in 2012, when 911 nurs­ing stu­dents were en­rolled.

It is the goal of state pol­icy mak­ers to in­crease the num­ber of grad­u­ates with an aca­demic de­gree or a tech­ni­cal cer­tifi­cate. Arkansas ranks near the bot­tom of na­tional rank­ings that mea­sure the per­cent­age of adults who have a de­gree.

It’s an eco­nomic is­sue, be­cause bet­ter ed­u­cated peo­ple tend to be more pro­duc­tive and fi­nan­cially pros­per­ous. Also, stu­dents who grad­u­ate in Arkansas are more likely to stay in the state and work or start a busi­ness, com­pared to stu­dents who leave the state to pur­sue a de­gree.

En­roll­ment used to be a ma­jor fac­tor in the level of state tax dol­lars an in­sti­tu­tion re­ceived. How­ever, this year the leg­is­la­ture changed the fund­ing for­mula to give more weight to the num­ber of stu­dents who grad­u­ate.

Act 148 of 2017 di­rects the Board of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Co­or­di­nat­ing Board to write two sep­a­rate for­mu­las, one for two-year col­leges and an­other for four-year uni­ver­si­ties. The for­mu­las will take into ac­count the dif­fer­ent mis­sions of each in­sti­tu­tion, the num­ber of un­der­rep­re­sented stu­dents who at­tend the cam­pus and the num­ber of STEM stu­dents that at­tend.

STEM stands for sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics.

The Univer­sity of Arkansas at Fayet­teville is the largest four-year cam­pus, with 27,558 stu­dents. The largest two-year col­lege is North­west Arkansas Com­mu­nity Col­lege, with 7,703 stu­dents. It has nu­mer­ous lo­ca­tions in Ben­ton and Washington Coun­ties.

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