During the University of Central Arkansas Board of Trustees regular meeting Friday, President Houston Davis outlined several priorities for the university through the rest of the year.
Of those items introduced, improvements in enrollment — which Davis said he told the board in August they would have a better sense of where enrollment was in terms of the past several years — and student progression from start to degree was the first mentioned.
For the past two consecutive falls, Davis said UCA’s freshman classes have been off, with a big dip in numbers from 2015’s 2,912 to 2016’s 2,548. This fall, freshman enrollment was 2,518.
“Someone asked me what do I really see as the overall enrollment goals,” he said.
Davis said UCA should not shy away from the idea of trying to have 2 percent growth in enrollment, which he believes the university has the ability and capacity to do from now until 2022.
Some other aspects they looked at, he said, have been encouraging such as transfer numbers being up, graduate student enrollment increases and the incoming freshman class profiles that have continued to show rises in ACT scores and more.
Davis said that a lot of work has been done during the past few years that has led to uptick in fall-to-fall first time freshman retention with numbers looking at 69.9 percent for 2013, 72.4 percent for 2014 and 72.9 percent for 2015.
“That increase of 3 [to] 4 percentage points, those of you that have been in higher education retention success initiatives for years, you know that moving [even] one percent point is big news,” he said. “If we can continue to maintain that low seventies to mid-seventies, that would be significant.”
Davis pointed out that the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville sat at 82 percent.
“I have made quite a bit of conversation about the fact that gap between UCA and Fayetteville is our charge,” he said. “There is no reason in this world, we’ve got all the cards that are dealt to us to be able to chase that number down. There’s no reason we shouldn’t have a goal to close that gap with Fayetteville.”
Davis also said other priorities for 2017-18 academic year include responsiveness and outreach by establishing a new scholarship calendar, earlier housing notifications and more intent in the state as well as Dallas, Oklahoma City and Tulsa and Memphis; implement new programs including the computer engineering and engineering physics, cybersecurity and interdisciplinary partners and online expansion; experimental learning focus through an inventory of all current efforts; fundraising goals regarding scholarships in academics, performance and athletics, as well as developing the capital campaign and timeline and more.
“All of that really rolls together to be a sense of kind of where I think we are after nine months,” he said. “Where I see some immediate opportunities, what are some of the things I want to focus on during the next year and as much of what the board and I are having conversations we will continue to shape that agenda.”
Another plan the university has, Davis said, is to look at the money.
As a first year president at UCA, he said one of the first things that needed to be done was for him to get an understanding of where the university resources flow and that mission would be accomplished through two different approaches: establishing a zero-based budget and through the strategic budget advisory committee process to plan for the FY (fiscal year) 19.
“The zero-based budget process is one tool that you can use to really get a good sense of where current dollars are being spent against the real documented needs are,” Davis said.
That is why, he said, every department is currently taking a hard look at its budgets, getting a baseline of what the actual needs are and naming the dollars one-by-one.
Vice President of Finance and Administration Diane Newton said the the strategic budget advisory committee process will look at the initiatives that impact the university’s strategic goals, thinking about what they could do to create better retention and graduation rate and increase recruiting numbers for instance.
She said when those two processes are complete, the executive staff will review the original budget as it is now and look at the needs of the campus from an “ongoing operational standpoint,” where the money and where it needs to be and have a prioritize a list.
“I think that’s going to be some really good information [in order] to move forward with the FY19 budget,” Newton said.
In other business, the board also:
• Approved purchase of 204 S. Donaghey Ave. for $290,000.
• Granted the City of Conway pathway easement for construction of a pedestrian overpass over Dave Ward Drive.
• Approved the 2017-18 October Revised Operating Budget in the amount of $187,682,316.