BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – Enrollment at Arkansas colleges and universities is down 1 percent from last year, according to a report from the state Department of Higher Education.
The overall decline is most notable at two-year colleges, which saw their enrollment go down from 56,116 students last year to 53,470 this year. That is a percentage decrease of 4.7 percent.
Four-year universities saw a slight increase in student populations, from 97,688 last year to 98,022 this year. That is growth of 0.3 percent.
Total enrollment at all public and private institutions of higher education this year is 168,816. That includes students in graduate degree programs, undergraduates, nursing students at two private nursing schools and high school students earning college credits at nearby colleges. Last year the total number of higher education students in Arkansas was 170,510.
There are 11 four-year public universities in Arkansas and six had increases in enrollment. There are 22 two-year colleges and only six of them had an increase in enrollment.
Arkansas Tech at Russellville had the highest rate of growth, with a 5.6 percent increase to a total of 12,003 students. That makes it the third largest institution in the state, behind the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where 26,237 students attend, and Arkansas State University at Jonesboro, where 13,135 students are enrolled.
Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia experienced a 3.9 percent increase, to a total of 3,538 students. That made it the second fastest growing campus among Arkansas’ four-year universities.
The university at Fayetteville had an increase of 3.5 percent. The private colleges in Arkansas increased their enrollment by 2.1 percent.
ASU-Newport was the fastest growing two-year college, with an increase of 22.3 percent. Mid-South Community College in West Memphis grew by 6.9 percent and South Arkansas Community College of El Dorado grew by 5.1 percent.
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock had the sharpest decline in student population – a drop of 5.6 percent from 12,377 last year to 11,681 this year. UALR has a high percentage of non-traditional students. The average age of its students is 28 and most of them are completing a degree while also working and perhaps raising a family. Changes in federal financial aid affected older students more than traditional ones, who go to college immediately after graduating from high school.
Another central Arkansas campus, Pulaski Technical College, also suffered a significant decrease in enrollment. Pulaski Tech’s enrollment fell from 10,526 to 9,244, which is a decline of 12.2 percent. It is the state’s largest two-year college. Both Pulaski Tech and UALR have tightened budgets in response to less than anticipated tuition caused by the declines in enrollment.
The second largest two-year college is Northwest Arkansas Community College, which has facilities in Benton and Washington Counties.
The decline in overall enrollment coincides with a steady increase in the number of Arkansas high school students who attend college immediately after getting a high school diploma. Last year 54.3 percent of Arkansas public high school graduates went to college. In 2009 the college-going rate for Arkansas seniors was 46.9 percent.
Nationally, the college-going rate was 66.2 percent last year, a decline from 70.1 percent the previous year.