Financial challenges force changes to Arkansas' Henderson State University

Henderson State University is pivoting its approach to education after working through financial issues and layoffs to remain viable for the future, state education leaders said Thursday.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the survivability of the university was in question due to “financial challenges” that he said led to some painful adjustments to ensure the university’s future.

“I have confidence because tough decisions have been made,” said the governor. “Tough decisions that have not been easy, they have been painful, and obviously we have compassion for those that are having to cut back on their hours or have lost their employment. But this was necessary for the survival of Henderson State University and those were necessary and tough decisions.”

Those tough decisions included spending cuts meant to restore the university’s fiscal integrity, said Dr. Chuck Ambrose, who serves as the chancellor of Henderson State University.

“We’ve improved our cash position and we are building a sustainable, strategic resource allocation model,” Ambrose said. “But just as important is the reallocation of financial resources to build personalized student pathways and support so college completion is available for all students.”

The university will work with K-12 partners, Arkansas State University Three Rivers, and Saline County Career Technical Campus to create a “learning community” that will develop personalized learning plans for students, according to Ambrose.

The plan is to increase workforce development opportunities with Arkansas State University Three Rivers, expand credentials, licensures, and degree offerings.

Secretary of Education Johnny Key called the university’s pivot “reimagining what education can look like.”

“Working together we can actually lower the cost of college. We can accelerate the time it takes for students to get their degrees. We can eliminate the skills gap so a college degree makes you workforce ready, and we can mitigate the use of student loan debt to pay,” Ambrose said.

Ambrose first announced the university’s plan for an academic reorganization in early May, which he said would provide critical savings. The target goal is to save $5 million from academic salaries, according to the university. Thus far, Henderson has saved an estimated $1.8 million by eliminating or reducing non-instruction unit salaries and restructuring administration positions, the university said.

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