Arkansas State University has received approval for its budget proposal for fiscal year 2023. The budget, which was announced at the ASU System Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, includes a 2 percent merit salary increase for all non-classified and faculty, and a 2 percent cost of living adjustment for classified employees.
The budget also has the transitioning of numerous positions from classified status to non-classified status; the funding of promotion, rank and tenure pay adjustments for faculty; and market adjustments for several campus units. Among these units, the University Police Department, Information and Technology Service and several skill trades within Facilities Management were listed.
ASU Chancellor Kelly Damphousse also received approval to provide a one-time, 1 percent merit-based bonus to qualifying A-State employees before the end of the current fiscal year on June 30, in recognition of the work done over the past year emerging from Covid-19.
Additionally, incorporating a change in the university’s overall tuition and mandatory fee structure, the FYF23 budget includes the first tuition increase in three years, and the second increase in the past five budget cycles.
“While we did request an increase this year, we will be using the additional funding to make investments into our personnel,” Damphousse clarified. “We did not take the decision to ask for an increase lightly, but the rising costs of utilities, software contracts, personnel and other required costs like property and liability insurance, have been negatively affecting our budget for the past three years.”
The 4.6 percent tuition and fees increase for FY2023 was reportedly in response to inflationary issues that are being experienced across the entire economy. In addition to the current increase, A-State has only increased resident tuition one time in the past four years, a 3.8 percent increase in FY2020.
“Rising energy and labor costs are not limited to only the private sector,” Damphousse said. “I appreciate the hard work of our leadership team, which allowed us to keep the average tuition increase over A-State’s past six budget cycles at less than 2% per year. Even with this FY2023 tuition and fee increase, A-State, which is the second largest university in Arkansas, will remain seventh among the state’s public four-year universities for tuition and mandatory fees.”
Since there is a change in A-State’s tuition and fees, the new structure will eliminate the assessment fee and fold nine other mandatory fees – such as student union and technology fees– into tuition. The athletic fee will remain a separate mandatory fee due to state law, the student activity fee will also remain separate, which funds extracurricular social, cultural and recreational activities for students. Fees related to college-level and courses, which are not paid by all students, will continue to be charged as before.
“Combining most of our mandatory fees with tuition will improve clarity for our students and their families as they estimate the true cost of attending college. Parents and students have long sought simplification of their bills because it can be confusing when schools leave tuition flat while simultaneously increasing mandatory fees,” Damphousse said. “We believe this will make comparison simpler for students who are considering A-State.”
For example, a resident undergraduate student who was enrolled in 15 hours per semester paid $8,900 in tuition and mandatory fees in the 2021-2022 school year, including mandatory fees. For the 2022-2023 academic year, the same student will pay $9,310 – a 4.6 percent increase – with only $700 in mandatory fees.
A-State has projected a flat enrollment for the fall semester – and while meeting the challenge of tuition-based budget, the university plans to maintain existing budget reductions.
“Our freshman enrollment is currently running 14.5 percent ahead of where we were this time last year, which is very encouraging. That said, we have planned our budget projections very conservatively, just as we have done every year that I have served as chancellor,” Damphousse said.
In receiving approval for the creation of the Institute for Rural Initiatives, the University will launch the new interdisciplinary study center which will focus on the unique challenges facing both Arkansas in the upper Delta and rural communities across the country. The two inaugural areas the IRA will launch will be public policy and public health – both of which relate to the nation’s rural communities.
“Launching the IRI fulfills one of our significant Discover 2025 strategic goals. There are numerous centers and institutes across the nation looking into challenges of urban areas, but very few are devoted to the issues and potentially existential challenges to small towns and rural communities across our country,” Damphousse said. “IRI research projects will be by their very nature interdisciplinary, just like our artificial intelligence research work in the Center for No-Boundary Thinking, engaging existing faculty members and students form each of our colleges.”
In addition to leveraging existing relationships with the New York Institute of Technology’s College of Osteopathic Medicine at A-State, and partnering with existing A-State centers like the Delta Center for Economic Development and the Delta Studies Center, the IRI looks to take on the common challenges of the day for rural America. Cameron Wimpy, political science faculty member, will serve as the inaugural IRI director.
“Declining economic activity, reduced cultural learning opportunities, migration from small towns to the city, climate change and continued neglect are leading to unprecedented barriers for turning things around in our rural communities,” Wimpy said in a board-approved proposal. “The IRI will become part of the conversation that begins to address these challenges, and A-State is uniquely positioned to be a leader in this process. This will be done through research, teaching and community engagement as outlined in the IRI’s core Values.”
Damphousse also announced the selection of a construction firm to build the phase two Judd Hill Farmer’s Market building during the meeting, where he also mentioned an architectural firm to design the Windgate Hall for Art and Innovation. A-State received bids for plans to renovate the current intramural, rugby and softball complex.