JONESBORO – Arkansas State University System President Chuck Welch today reiterated his support for the state’s new higher education productivity model.
Welch told members of the ASU Board of Trustees at its regular meeting that the process is moving forward to achieve the goals sought by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
“As you can imagine, any change brings a significant amount of concern and fear,” Welch said. “We’re working through a lot of details. We will need to tweak certain aspects moving forward and it will be a living document. I have been and remain fully supportive of the model and look forward to working with the governor and legislators to make sure we have a fair, efficient model.”
Welch said the system will soon award a contract with a firm to conduct a comprehensive review of processes and programs as part of long-sought efforts to find efficiencies on the campuses. Plans for a staffing survey and programming review were announced a year ago, and now an outside firm will conduct an overall efficiency study inclusive of those areas.
“One person will be on the ground for 12 weeks looking at everything on all campuses including ratios and processes, particularly on the administrative side,” Welch said. “They will help us identify alternative revenue opportunities and give us financial and trend modeling. Ultimately this will be extraordinarily beneficial to our campuses. We must make sure resources are being put in the best possible spots.”
Board Chairman Ron Rhodes of Cherokee Village said, "We think this puts us in a direction where we do the best we can do with the people's money to benefit the people who are most important – the students."
Welch said one example of system efficiencies is the employee health plan, which is very affordable compared with most public entity plans. A recent system survey with a 60 percent participation rate showed 80 percent satisfaction with the Cigna plan benefits and only 16 percent who disagreed.
“We have to manage our health plan very carefully,” Welch said. “The vast majority of our employees are satisfied. The survey showed the number one most important feature was nationwide in-network access to specialists and hospitals, and we previously weren’t able to offer that. We are going to review the pharmacy formularies and do some other tweaks, but we do not anticipate wholesale changes to the plan based on our employee satisfaction levels.”
Welch praised campus leaders for being strategic about enrollment management and said a formal study will be conducted to improve the transfer process from two-year institutions.
Arkansas State Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said he is “very passionate about transfer students” because of his personal educational experience. A-State has created a new Commission on Recruitment Retention and will expand its effort to encourage transfers from ASU System two-year institutions as well as other two-year colleges.
Two ASU System campuses are celebrating major anniversaries with special events this year. ASU-Beebe is beginning its 90th year, and ASU Mid-South has reached its 25th anniversary.
Welch noted ASU Mid-South’s “seamless transition” into the ASU System and said the campus joined the health plan earlier in the year. The West Memphis campus was recently recognized by the Chronicle of Higher Education as one of its “Great Colleges to Work For” in the country – the only college honored in Arkansas.
The board approved long-term lease agreements for Arkansas State with the cities of Walnut Ridge and Imboden to construct facilities for a disaster preparedness training program. A-State offers a bachelor’s degree and associate’s degree in disaster preparedness and emergency management. The campus will now seek grants and private funding for the project, which will be one of only 10 in the country and is expected to attract emergency management professionals nationwide.
The board also adopted a resolution to honor the late Lt. Patrick Weatherford, who was killed in the line of duty for the Newport Police Department on June 12, with the naming of the ASU-Newport Lieutenant Patrick Weatherford Criminal Justice Department. His wife, Kristen, attended the meeting and was recognized. Weatherford was a graduate of ASU-Newport and A-State, and he was a part-time police officer on the ASU-Newport campus.
In other business, the board:
• Revised the system weapons policy to comply with new state laws.
• Approved new policies on internal controls and investments.
• Honored the contributions of James E. and Wanda Lee Vaughn with the naming of The Vaughn Student Lounge in the Carl R. Reng Student Union on the A-State campus.