Governor and State Department of Education Commit to Henderson State University

Henderson State University in Arkadelphia has been in financial turmoil for the past few years. Still, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key and others stressed Thursday, July 7, that the institution would remain open.

Changes are afoot, Henderson State University Chancellor Charles Ambrose said. School and state officials did not reveal details at a Little Rock news conference, but Ambrose said part of the university’s financial difficulties stem from the fact that students were enrolling in programs and not graduating often because of the cost.

The school had to apply for a $6 million loan from the Arkansas Budget Stabilization Trust Fund in 2019 to cover unpaid student accounts. The situation escalated as the COVID-19 pandemic decimated many colleges and universities across the country.

Former Henderson State President Glen Jones resigned in July 2019 amid financial difficulties, and the school later voted to become a member of the Arkansas State University System. Ambrose was hired in late 2021 to fix the problem.

Ambrose admitted that the past seven months have been difficult for the university and the surrounding community. In May, the school launched a plan to save $5 million and cut teaching positions and teacher salaries.

The plan reduced 88 positions, including 21 unfilled positions or 37% of the 237 total positions in spring 2022. Of the remaining 67 positions cut, 44 are full professors who can remain employed throughout the 2022 academic year- 2023. The changes will result in annual payroll savings of $2.55 million in fiscal year 2023 and an additional $2.79 million in fiscal year 2024.

Ambrose said the reimagining of college curricula would be organized into four meta-majors that align with the skills, abilities, and talents that define the needs of the community workforce: health, education, and social sustainability; Applied professional sciences and technologies; Business innovation and entrepreneurship; and Arts and Humanities.

University degrees are designated either as future degree programs, which will continue to be offered, or as teaching degree programs. Currently enrolled Henderson students and freshmen in fall 2022 will be supported to complete teaching degrees. The academic disciplines included in the teaching degrees will continue to be integrated into the general education and interdisciplinary studies curriculum to improve outcomes for all students.

“We did not make these decisions lightly, and it is impossible to minimize the impact this has on members of our community,” Ambrose said.

To help students, the school will enter into unique partnership agreements with other institutions such as Arkansas State University at Jonesboro, ASU Three Rivers, a two-year school in Malvern, and others to expand the school’s academic offering.

Henderson State also has partnership agreements with the state, Key said. In the coming years, the college landscape will change dramatically, which will give the institution flexibility when crafting its offerings in the future, he said.

Ambrose said his school is unlikely to be like any other traditional two- or four-year school in the state, but he believes it will thrive by developing a new “educational ecosystem” in southern Arkansas.

“Henderson State is ready to take a giant leap forward,” Ambrose said.

Much more needs to be done to strengthen the school, but Governor Hutchinson said he believes Henderson State is on the right track.

“We have the leadership that has worked to right the ship,” he said. “These are tough decisions that weren’t easy.”

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