A-State chancellor talks budget, private partnerships, and social media popularity

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Arkansas State University Chancellor Dr. Kelly Damphousse is wrapping up his first six months as the head of the Jonesboro campus. On Monday, he visited the Region 8 News studios to talk about budget issues, new funding resources and his popularity on social media.

Budget Shortfall

A-State is currently experiencing a budget shortfall. According to Chancellor Damphousse, a decline in traditional student enrollment has caused a $3.6M shortfall in the university's budget.

Traditional students are those who attend Arkansas State and live on campus.

He says the enrollment for traditional students is at its lowest point in some time.

This decline, Damphousse said, is due to more than just a loss in tuition dollars.

"We are dependent upon funds that are created by our students," Damphousse told Region 8 News. "Not only tuition and fees but also money that comes in from housing and the cafeteria... because of that, we've experienced a pretty significant shortfall in our budget."

It's an issue that is not isolated to just Arkansas State University.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center,  overall enrollments across the university dropped 1.5%. In Arkansas, that decline was even greater. Estimated enrollment, according to the center, was down 3.6% from the spring of 2016 to the spring of 2017.

Dr. Damphousse said he and his team are focusing on what's stopping students from enrolling.

"We know who applied here. We know who were admitted here. Now we're trying to figure out, for those who are in that category, why didn't they come here and what can we do differently" Damphousse said.

The decline has A-State focusing on recruiting.

That includes recruitment dinners and focusing on high-populated areas in Arkansas: Craighead County, Pulaski County, and  Saline County.

"Those are the places we used to always recruit really well from to let them know that Arkansas State is still there. To make sure they understand the resources are available, scholarship opportunity and access to our faculty," Damphousse said.

In the meantime, A-State has adjusted the budget.

Damphousse asked vice-chancellors to examine their areas of the university for places to make cuts. That will include canceling certain travel plans and delaying deferred maintenance projects.

Damphousse told Region 8 News that a soft hiring freeze is in place. That means the university won't immediately hire someone when a position becomes available. He said he knows a soft hiring freeze will take its toll.

"If someone leaves and we don't replace them that means someone else will have to pick up that job," he said. "These efforts we're engaging in are meant to be short-term."

While the budget adjustments are short-term, the university is undergoing an efficiency study.

Damphousse said he wants to make the university administration as efficient as possible. This, he believes, will help free resources to allow students and faculty "to be as inefficient as possible."

"I want our faculty and students to have the freedom to do things that takes resources," Damphousse said.

A different way A-State is bringing money in is through private partnerships. This has taken the form of two big projects recently: the North End Zone Project at the football complex and a new convention center on campus.

The chancellor said these partnerships add to the campus and generate extra money in the form of ticket sales and exposure.

That extra money also helps protect tuition dollars. Damphousse says the university is exploring more ways to get private funding to create scholarship opportunities that will offset past tuition increases.

"The more people that see the great things are happening here, the more students will come here, the more people will invest their time and their treasure into supporting our university, and we think that those are great opportunities," Damphousse said.

Social Media Success

Since taking over in July, Chancellor Damphousse has become quite popular among students at Arkansas State University. He's not alone. His wife, Beth, and their dog, Maple Leaf, are regular fixtures on the A-State campus.

If you follow Damphousse on Twitter or Facebook, you'll notice a common theme: a smiling man taking selfies with his students.

"We've been very blessed, my wife and I, to be so warmly welcomed into the town," Damphousse told Region 8 News. "Jonesboro has been very open, inviting and warm to us."

Damphousse said his social media interaction with students is who he is as a leader, focusing on his students and their success.

"Our interest in students is genuine. We're very passionate about her students' success. We both understand who education can change your life. I was a first-generation college student. My parents had a 9th and 12th-grade education. I know how that education impacted my life and I feel duty-bound to make sure students have that same opportunity in northeast Arkansas."

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