Budget Standoff Worrying ASU Officials

April 28, 2003
Posted at: 5:32 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, Ark. -- Arkansas higher education officials are worried they may lose some of the best and brightest in the state because of the delay in adopting a state budget.

The Arkansas General Assembly adjourned April 16 without a budget in place. Governor Mike Huckabee has called for the first of what could be three special sessions to begin on May 5. The first session will be for legislators to finalize a biennial budget before July 1.

Administrators at Arkansas State University acknowledge that for years now, they've been competing with other universities in Arkansas for a portion of the budget. Now, because of the budget delay, the reality is that ASU's piece of the pie is getting slimmer.

In January, Huckabee began the 84th legislative session with a laundry list of goals, education being a top priority. Almost four months later, the stalemate in the legislature is costing universities more than just cash. Schools are losing out on students who depend on state scholarship money.

"The lack of the scholarship being out there," Associate Dean Gregory Thornburg said. "The student is more tempted to go out of state."

In just 2 years, the amount of money given to the state-funded academic challenge scholarships has decreased from $4.1 to $3.1 million. The fear of university officials is that funding will continue to decrease.

"Our freshman class we have this year is the first year we have a class that does not have the challenge (scholarship)," Vice Chancellor Dr. Rick Stripling said. "How many years will this continue to have classes of students that don't have those resources available to them?"

Stripling's concern is not only about losing students, but also the long-term affects on the university when money is not flowing in.

"You have to look at other alternatives, and sometimes those alternatives are very limited."

Or, they could be costly. Stripling says a tuition increase may be the only way to handle budget strains. Other administrators say whether it's a halt in construction or a decrease in university services, a delay in the legislature is hurting students and the Delta region.

"If (students) are going to school in Nebraska," Thornburg said. "Then we're losing that resource that's valuable to the state."