Enrollment is up by about 300 students this fall at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, according to UCA President Tom Courtway, who addressed the Noon Rotary Club at its weekly meeting last Thursday.
That number had been trending downward since 2008, when 12,974 students were enrolled at the school, Courtway said. Enrollment in this year’s freshmen class grew to 2,217 students, up from 2,157 in 2012. The total number of students enrolled as of last week was 11,157.
The college’s student body is comprised of students representing 61 countries, 42 states and every county in the state of Arkansas, he reported. The number of public high school students choosing to attend UCA is second only to those enrolling in the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
“Students still choose us, and that is a very reassuring statistic to me,” Courtway said.
Freshmen are paying about $13,025 for tuition, fees, and room and board, Courtway said, compared to about $16,014 at U of A in Fayetteville.
Courtway said tuition has gone up, and called it a “constant battle,” to retain top faculty and keep college affordable for students and their parents.
Courtway told the club that the university ended FY2013 with $34 million in cash. “And we did that during declining enrollment and flat state funding,” he said.
Some of the university’s future goals, Courtway highlighted, are to become one of the top regional universities in the south, to create a campus that will attract the best students, faculty and staff around and to increase effectiveness and outreach in all of the school’s external relations.
To do that, Courtway said, the school is considering a number of things, including a strategic plan to recruit and retain “the best” faculty and staff and to draw enrollment to 13,500 over the next five years; a plan to construct a new health sciences building and renovate the Lewis Science Center; the construction of sorority and fraternity housing; and a comprehensive plan for the future of Donaghey Avenue.
Courtway said he had been in a meeting with city officials earlier in the week to begin discussions on what the street should look like in the future, and said the plans would change what Conway could become.
Courtway stressed that while the university has “been through a lot,” in recent years, it is more important to look forward than back, and to begin planning for the school’s future.
“Those students that moved in last Sunday were in eighth grade when former President (Lu) Hardin resigned. They don’t care ... They trust us to deliver a quality education at an affordable price,” Courtway said. “For too long, some of us have been looking at our shoelaces — too timid, meek, or apologetic to look down the road and see what UCA can become.”
Courtway told the audience the school “sets the bar” athletically, is strong student-wise, excellent academically and healthy financially.
Of challenges facing the school, Courtway said leaders must consider “every way possible to save costs and retain students.”
On the school’s bear sculpture, carved in May from tree that was originally planted in the memory of UCA alumni who served in World War II, Courtway said it was “the best $4,000 (he) ever authorized to spend.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Conway Noon Rotary President Roger Lewis presented Courtway a check for $2,500 in proceeds from the club’s annual pancake breakfast, held in May.
Ellis Arnold, acting president of Hendrix College, will be featured speaker at the club’s noon meeting on Thursday at the Conway Country Club.
UCA offers over 100 undergraduate courses of study, 33 master’s degree programs and four doctoral programs. The school has 10 residence halls, three residential colleges and additional apartment housing. For more information on the school, visit www.uca.edu.