The Southern Arkansas University Board of Trustees approved the University to move forward with construction of two new residence halls at a cost of approximately $12 million.
“We have been bursting at the seams and we feel the time is right for new halls,” said SAU President Dr. Trey Berry to the Board at their quarterly meeting Tuesday afternoon. “We have been examining a ground lease and have been very fortunate to partner with the SAU Alumni Association.”
Construction is scheduled to begin around October 27, according to SAU Vice President for Facilities Jasper Lewis. The 264-bed residence hall project will be comprised of two 132-bed dormitories. They will be at the north entrance to campus across the street from the new track facility, which is currently undergoing a $1 million overhaul.
“We hope to have these halls ready by fall 2016. They are essential parts to our future growth,” said Berry.
SAU has experienced steady growth over the past decade, and became the fastest-growing university in Arkansas this fall with a 16.7% jump over last year’s record-setting enrollment. SAU University Housing was among the many record enrollment numbers posted this fall, with 1,605 students residing on campus.
New and unique degree programs at SAU have contributed to the enrollment growth, and the Board approved another tech major that is expected to draw even more students. The new Cyber Security and Privacy option for SAU’s popular Computer Science program will begin in fall 2016 if passed by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.
SAU Tech also had two new programs approved by the Board – an emphasis in HVAC/Electronics and Instrumentation and an emphasis in Medical Office Administration. SAU Tech Executive Vice Chancellor Robert Gunnels reported that both of these fields are in high demand from employers, and that he has already seen a lot of interest from prospective students.
Steve Keith, vice chair of the Board, stepped up in the absence of Chairman O.A. “Buddy” Franks, who unexpectedly passed away on September 21.
“He will be greatly missed not just today, but for many years to come,” said Berry in a tribute to Franks at the beginning of the meeting. Berry presented Franks’ widow, Jeanne Bowman Franks, with a framed collage of photos of the two representing the impact they have had at SAU and in the community. He also gave her the gavel used by Franks to kick off the Board meetings he led.
Berry presented highlights of the many things that have happened at SAU since the previous Board meeting, which included the following:
- This past weekend was the 100th Anniversary of Homecoming at SAU, which included a lot of class reunions, a record-setting Mulegating experience and record-setting gate receipts at the football game.
- The Ted Monroe Farm has been extremely active and students are currently involved in the harvesting of a soybean crop. A harvest celebration is scheduled for next week at the farm.
- Lockheed Martin has established an internship slot solely for SAU Engineering students. It is set to start in the spring.
- SAU was named #6 most affordable small college in the United States by BestValueSchools.com. SAU is using this honor in this year’s recruiting efforts. Berry said it is a testament of how the University has worked to keep costs down for students over the years.
- SAU recruiters are focusing on new areas of the state, including a push in Central Arkansas. A reception was recently held for students and teachers in Cabot, and it was a success.
- Fundraising efforts have been very active and have already shown gains. Over the third quarter, alumni giving has increased 38%, and overall giving is up 10%. Assistant Vice President for Development Josh Kee initiated a “Power of Five” campaign to electronically target recent SAU grads. With a gift of $5, alumni are entered into the pipeline and they get a good feeling about giving back to their University.’
Dr. Corbit Lamkin of SAU Tech reported on economic development and fundraising efforts, which included a recent tour of their facilities by ADHE Director Brett Powell.
Gunnels shared progress made in SAU Tech’s strategic planning process with Berry’s Friday visits to Camden. Enrollment and retention have been areas of attention, and Gunnels was happy to report that enrollment flattened out this fall following four years of declining student numbers. Administrators are looking into developing more completely online programs and reinstating program offerings in Fordyce. They are also looking at increasing Friday class offerings to target employees in the Highland Industrial Park.
Gunnels shared that the two new recruiters at SAU Tech bring a high level of enthusiasm and personality. They are doing more program-specific high school visits, which they hope will lead to more campus visits and overall interest.
Recent data shows that 79% of SAU Tech’s students are first-generation college students. Gunnels said this knowledge could change the way they serve their students and be very impactful in their retention efforts.
Barbara Hamilton represented the SAU Tech Administrative Staff Organization and presented to the Board that group’s idea of “Tech in Town.” This initiative will bring together SAU Tech faculty, staff, and students in an effort to beautify Camden and promote the college’s visibility in their community.