The SAU System Board of Trustees met for its quarterly meeting on Thursday, Oct. 29. The meeting was broadcast for attendees to join virtually, with only the Trustees and presenters gathered in-person in the Grand Hall of the Donald W. Reynolds Center on the SAU campus.
Trustee Monty Harrington presided over the meeting as Board Chairman Mr. Lawrence Bearden joined virtually. Harrington called the meeting to order and asked for a moment of silence to honor the late Board of Trustees member Mr. Gary Golden, who passed away earlier this fall.
SAU President Dr. Trey Berry provided an update on the University, beginning with a COVID-19 report. Berry expressed his appreciation to the University’s students, faculty and staff for their heroic work keeping the campus safe and moving forward during the pandemic, which he said continues to make 2020-2021 an unpredictable academic year. President Berry reminded attendees that real-time COVID statistics are available via SAU’s COVID dashboard at www.saumag.edu/coronavirus.
Berry noted even though fall enrollment was a concern for all schools, SAU has persevered. “Among four-year universities in the state, SAU was one of only three showing an increase. Graduate programs saw a 10.3 percent increase this fall, and enrollment for spring 2021 looks encouraging,” Berry said.
“With the COVID protocols in place, it has been difficult to have all of the normal activities on campus this semester. Our staff have been very creative in finding ways for us to proceed with activities and continue to follow protocols,” Berry said, noting that modified student activities, including homecoming events, were recently held.
SAU continues to innovate and enhance academic programs, including the creation of fall intersession, which provides students the opportunity to earn additional credit hours by taking classes during December. The College of Liberal and Performing Arts will begin offering a new BFA degree in Art & Design with a concentration in Pre-Art Therapy, and the College of Education and Human Performance is offering a new Instructional Facilitator/LEAD Teacher M.Ed. The new Ed.D. program will begin accepting applications November 1.
Berry also noted that SAU’s BS in Nursing Program ranked first among state-supported four-year universities in Arkansas for first-time NCLEX pass rates, and SAU’s online MBA program was recently ranked as the most affordable in Arkansas.
Continued concerns surrounding COVID-19 prompted SAU to modify the spring calendar. The spring semester will begin January 13 and end April 30, canceling the weeklong Spring Break and replacing it with two long weekends.
Berry concluded his comments by providing an update on the University’s ambitious Love and Loyalty Campaign, which has eclipsed its $22.2 million fundraising goal with a current total of $23.7 million. Berry thanked Josh Kee, vice president for advancement, and his team for their hard work.
SAU Tech Chancellor Dr. Jason Morrison provided a positive report on Tech’s response to meeting challenges caused by the pandemic. “We have multiple committees navigating our return to campus, and it’s a testament to their leadership that we were able to come back,” Morrison said. “Housing is 100-percent full,” he said, “with all students educated as to safety protocols. We are making sure our people are safe,” he said.
Enrollment at SAU Tech was up 4.5 percent for the semester, and up 11.5 percent in credit production. “We fought to ensure that our enrollment was up,” Morrison said. “We are truly excited.”
Morrison reported growth in funding and partnerships for new academic programs. Tech recently received a $940,000 grant focused on Allied Health Programs, including the creation of a new sonogram program set to begin in spring 2022. According to Morrison, it will be the only such program south of Little Rock, and Tech will be the only two-year college in Arkansas to offer the program. New needs-based scholarships will soon be available to Tech students, thanks to a $25,000 endowment funded by Brookshire’s. A nine-week pre-employment training program partnership with Future Fit provides participating students necessary skills for employment in the local industrial park. Morrison reported that the first group of participants just completed the program, and 100 percent of the participants were successful in obtaining employment offers.
Morrison reported that construction of the new Arkansas Fire Training Academy dormitory is progressing. The dormitory is scheduled for completion in late spring 2021.
In other business, the Board approved a bond refunding resolution for bonds issued in 2013 and 2015 totaling $7.75 million, saving the University $725,459 in interest.
The Board heard and approved program changes for both SAU and SAU Tech as presented by SAU Provost Dr. David Lanoue and SAU Tech Vice Chancellor for Academics Dr. Valerie Wilson. Additionally, the board heard and approved the 2019-2020 Minority Recruitment and Retention Annual Reports as presented by SAU’s Lanoue and Ms. Jenny Sanders, SAU Tech director of enrollment. A language change to the Memorandum of Understanding between SAU and the SAU Foundation referencing the Foundation’s selection of an accounting firm to conduct annual audits was approved. The 2018-2019 Legislative Audits for both SAU and SAU Tech were presented. The Board approved both audits, which were completed with no reportable findings. Following executive session, the Board approved all personnel changes and the meeting adjourned.