University Receives Increase in State Funding, Monies From General Improvement Fund
The Joy Manning Scott Full Moon Bridge at Garvan Woodland Garens in Hot Springs. The University of Arkansas' botanical garden received $500,000 in General Improvement Funds in the recent legislative session. Photo by Jeremy Bennetts.
The University of Arkansas saw an increase in its state-funded appropriation and received significant allocations from the state General Improvement Fund during the recent legislative session of the Arkansas General Assembly.
The session ended on May 17. The state appropriation for the University of Arkansas for fiscal year 2014, which starts July 1, totaled just more than $125.5 million — a 2.6 percent increase over the current fiscal year and the largest percentage increase since 2008.
The increase in state funding allowed the university to seek the lowest percentage tuition-and-fee increase for the forthcoming academic year among the four-year undergraduate universities in the University of Arkansas System.
"The General Assembly's recent state appropriation increase, as recommended by Governor [Mike] Beebe, made it possible for us to adopt the smallest tuition increase in several years and to provide pay increases to our faculty and staff," said Chancellor G. David Gearhart. "We are grateful for this year's increase, the first of significance in six years, which is helping us maintain a balance between affordability and high quality."
The university will also get $3 million for its general use through the law establishing a General Improvement Fund, which sets aside various amounts to state legislators and the governor for special projects funded with surplus cash in the state government's budget.
Richard Hudson, vice chancellor for government and community relations, said he was pleased with the appropriation increase, in light of the fact that legislators approved tax cuts that are projected to lower state revenue by more than $100 million in fiscal years 2015 and 2016.
"We are also appreciative of the $3 million in General Improvement Funds, which materialized late in the session and which we hadn't anticipated," Hudson said.
Three U of A entities will receive significant funding through the General Improvement Fund.
Through Act 894, Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs was designated to receive $500,000, with Sen. Bill Sample allocating $490,000 and Sen. Alan Clark allocating $10,000. The 210-acre botanical garden, which has a chapel, pavilion and many other features, is open to the public and is part of the Fay Jones School of Architecture.
Through Act 385, Sen. Uvalde Lindsey provided $250,000 for the Nanoscale Material Science and Engineering Building. The 76,000-square-foot facility, which opened in September 2011, houses the university's Institute for Nanoscience and Engineering — which is comprised of faculty and students in departments across campus working in nanoscale research — and the university's microelectronics-photonics graduate program.
Through Act 790, the World Trade Center Arkansas — an international economic outreach enterprise embedded within the university — will receive a total of $245,000 from 10 legislators. Sen. Jon Woods provided $50,000; $25,000 each were Sens. Missy Irvin, Bart Hester and Michael Lamoureux and Jonathan Dismang and Reps. Davy Carter, Micah Neal and Duncan Baird. Lindsey, whose senate district includes the U of A, and Sen. Bruce Maloch each contributed $10,000.
The legislature, through Act 234, restructured the state's lottery-funded Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship program. Starting this fall, first-time recipients of the scholarship would receive $2,000 as freshmen, $3,000 as sophomores, $4,000 as juniors and $5,000 as seniors at four-year universities.
Until the law took effect in early March, students who were first awarded the scholarships in the 2010-11 school year each received $5,000 a year to attend a four-year school. Those who were first awarded the scholarships in the 2011-12 or 2012-13 school years get $4,500 a year at universities.
Hudson said university leaders wanted to avoid a reduction in the amount traditional first-year students would receive.
"Legislators would reject most everything that we would counter with because lottery revenue has fallen," he said. "We would come up with a beautiful plan but they would say, 'Fine, that will work for about three years until we go right back in the same boat. There's not enough money to do it that way.'"
A law that also drew statewide attention was Act 226, which provides that full-time faculty and staff at colleges and universities who hold concealed handgun permits may carry such weapons on campus — provided that the institution's board of trustees does not annually opt out of the law. Trustees of the University of Arkansas System, acting on a recommendation from system President Donald Bobbitt, voted to opt out of the law at their meeting in May.
Another law affecting the U of A community is Act 312, which prohibits the use of public funds for supporting or opposing ballot measures. A violation of the law is a misdemeanor and leads to termination.
"We as employees are very limited in what we can do," Hudson said. "We'll have to be very careful. If we wanted to campaign for or against a ballot measure, we'd have to take vacation time, or just talk about the impact and not say how to vote."
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