Dr. Trey Berry, president of Southern Arkansas University, pointed to many positive developments the campus has experienced in the fall semester of 2017-2018, including a rise in freshman applications for fall 2018 and progress toward a new Doctor of Education degree program in Education Leadership.
Berry made the remarks at the meeting of the SAU Board of Trustees meeting Friday, Dec. 8, on the Magnolia campus.
“We’ve had a record freshman class this year which we are very excited about, and also have the highest average ACT among any class in our history, which is a good sign,” Berry said. “Academic credentials of our students are going up and that is what we really like to see.”
Berry noted that SAU has seen a “record number of students living on campus and in our Honors College, and the highest number of sophomores. Projected enrollment for the fall is up significantly. Our acceptance rate is also up. We are looking at the possibility of very full residence halls. These are all great signs and we are excited about what next year brings.”
He said SAU is seeing a drop in its international student enrollment, “but that is happening across the country, at every university, and we are trying to diversify.”
A group of “international ambassadors” consisting of 15 students from 15 countries has been designed “to help us recruit overseas, in their home countries,” Berry said. “We hope they will help us make up for that shortfall.”
He said Dr. David Lanoue, provost and vice president for academic affairs, has been working tirelessly to bring an Ed.D program, the first of its kind to south Arkansas, to SAU. “We jumped over our first hurdle with the first reading of the proposal and first comments session with the state Higher Education Coordinating Board,” Berry said. “Positive questions were asked. The next step is to have consultants come to campus to assess our readiness for the program. I’ve heard nothing but good comments.”
He said that in the best case scenario, the Ed.D program would start in fall 2019. “We have already received enormous interest, and there is a great need for this program,” Berry said. “We’ll keep you posted as we go along.”
Creating more things for students to do on campus has been a priority this fall. “We’ve established an 18-net Disc Golf Course for our students, and that is a very big deal, as our disc golf team has qualified for the national tournament in South Carolina.”
Also, Panda Express will be coming to campus in early spring 2018. “We’re happy to announce another great dining venue for students and the community,” Berry said. The City of Magnolia will assist the University with a road to the new restaurant, which will be located in the University Village clubhouse. “It will bring 15-20 jobs to the Magnolia area, which is a great thing,” Berry said.
SAU will also be home to a new Poultry Operations Education Facility. “We’re bringing poultry studies back to SAU,” Berry said. “It will be a state-of-the-art chicken house, and students will learn the entire run of the poultry industry, from hatching to processing. There will not be anything like this in the region.”
Berry told the Board that SAU’s total fund balance stands at 18 percent, or $2 million in cash, which is an improvement over past years’ balances. “I am astounded by this and we are excited about what it means for our University.”
Growth continues in endowments under the lead of Josh Kee, vice president for development. Berry said the SAU Foundation has raised $35 million so far in endowments, with $5.5 million being raised this year, “a milestone in fundraising. It’s the largest amount ever and the year is not over.”
“Tennis will be back by fall 2018,” Berry said. “On Jan. 2, we are going to begin the demolition of the current tennis courts and will restore them. We will recruit a team over the spring.” He also anticipated the hiring of a tennis coach soon.
Berry informed the Board that this year’s Celebration of Lights was a success, and that SAU’s new marketing slogan, “Feels Like Home,” has struck a chord with students making a decision about college.
“Our slogan is really catching on,” he said. “The home-like atmosphere is winning students over. They are choosing us because they feel safe here.”
He also noted that construction of the President’s home on North Jackson Street is proceeding. “The trusses are up, and the crew hopes to have the decking up next week.” Construction should be complete by the first of June, weather permitting. “We’ve got a great team working on it.”
Jason Morrison, chancellor of SAU Tech-Camden, delivered a year-end recap of activities on his campus. Morrison said a carnival called Rocket Day was planned by the students for special-needs children. “We had 130 of those kids on our campus, and it was touching to see their beauty and innocence,” Morrison said.
Morrison said the reputation of SAU Tech has been improving. “People are saying, ‘Tech is for real,’ and Rocket Day was a great demonstration of what it’s all about.”
“We’ve been changing the landscape at Tech,” he continued, following a video presentation to the Board. “We’re saying that students at Tech will no longer be treated as if they are second class. You will get the same experiences you would have at a four-year institution but at a lower cost. We’re a family, and family protects family.”
He said that applications for fall 2018 are up and “we are already receiving housing applications. We’re hoping this is all a good sign. We’re truly ecstatic about what’s been happening and it has been a busy year.”
In his presentation to the Board, Lanoue asked for approval of academic changes to the Master of Public Administration. “We are turning it into a four-plus-one program, which means a student can start from freshman year and complete the program in just five year from Day One through the end.” Also, the MPA will now be offered strictly online. “We hope to be able to grow the program through these changes.”
Changes were also sought for the College of Science & Engineering, which will be adding a BS in Public Health. Lanoue cited job growth in health care over the next 40 years. “We want to play a role in that,” he said. “This will create another option for students considering the health care field.”
The Board unanimously approved all academic changes.
Roger Giles, vice president for administration and general counsel, went before the trustees to ask that they approve a resolution to officially change the name of the Business Building to Blanchard Hall. Though the name change was accomplished with a public ceremony earlier this fall semester, Giles said the resolution would make the change “a permanent part of the records of this institution.” Trustees adopted the resolution.
Revenues and Expenses
Shawana Reed, vice president for finance, reviewed the 2015-2016 Legislative audit report. It reflected typical increases in tuition, salaries, fringes, and scholarships. The increase in tuition rates directly affected tuition revenue. Revenue from state appropriations was only 24 percent of total. The expense categories showed comparable results when calculating percentage of total expenses.
The University issued an $8 million bond in March, which added to construction cash on hand and capital assets for two residence halls – Eichenberger Hall and Burns-Harsh Hall. Both the assets and the liabilities were reflected in the report.
Gaye Manning, vice chancellor at SAU Tech, reported on her institution’s audit for 2015-2016. Noting the report was “comprehensive” of all colleges at Tech, including the Arkansas Environmental Training Academy and the Arkansas Fire Training Academy, she said Tech “saw a very good audit, with no findings or issues of concern.” It reflected a net position of $14.4 million. “We are looking a lot better than we did four years ago,” Manning said. “This shows we have done the right things for our campus.”
The Board approved both audits.