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Ozarka College holds the line on tuition as fall semester begins

Monday, August 15, 2011

Returning Ozarka College students have something to celebrate as they register for fall classes. Their tuition is the same price per hour as last year.

"We have to take it year by year but, this year, we decided we didn't have to do that (raise tuition)," said Ozarka President Dr. Richard Dawe, who is beginning his third year at the helm.

Ozarka may be the only institution of higher learning in the state not to increase tuition rates this school year.

Most two and four year colleges in Arkansas raised tuition by six to nine percent, citing reduced state support.

"We cannot continue to make progress as a university without the necessary resources," said Arkansas Tech President Robert Brown, after his board approved an increase. "We did not receive any increase in state funding for higher education this year."

So how did Ozarka hold the line?

"Our Vice-President for Finances, Tina Wheelis, is very frugal and a very savvy financial leader," said Dawe, "and, in my budget background, I tend to be very conservative."

Most importantly, according to Dawe, his Board of Trustees is also frugal, and college leaders pinch pennies with student needs in mind.

"It's tough for a single working parent, paying for childcare, coming to and from classes, buying books. This year, we just drew a line in the sand and said we're not going to do it (raise tuition)."

Dawe adds, while he hears complaints when tuition goes up, he hasn't gotten many pats on the back for holding the line this year, but he knows students and parents appreciate rates staying the same.

While money is tight, students at the Mountain View and Ash Flat campuses will notice some improvements when classes begin on August 22.

An August 11 dedication and open house will celebrate completion of the new Student and Nursing Education Center at Mountain View. The new building was needed because of rapid enrollment growth at the Stone County campus.

The building will offer classrooms, offices, a nursing lab, lecture hall, conference room and a Student Center and Cyber Cafe.

"We build modest buildings compared to some colleges but, with high tech classrooms and labs, it's an outstanding facility," said Dawe. "We got a lot of bang for our scarce taxpayer bucks."

Students at the fast growing Ash Flat campus are going to get much needed expanded parking.

"The Ash Flat site grew by 25 percent last fall and we had students parking in fire lanes, on the grass, just everywhere," said Dawe. "We are building new parking and adding lighting to the east parking lot. It's about to be completed, nearly doubling parking capacity to keep up with growth."

The $100,000 project is possible because of a three-eights cent tax Ash Flat citizens passed when Ozarka decided to expand to the city.

"The tax amounts to about $250,000 a year, which really helps us hire faculty and make improvements, as the site grows," said Dawes.

Last fall, Ozarka showed a 25 percent overall increase in enrollment, the fastest one year growth of any two or four year institution in the state.

Dawe said the growth has "stressed the system in a good way," requiring more faculty and staff to be hired.

This year, early enrollment has been strong and the college is expecting to increase total enrollment by another 10 to 15 percent.

Dawe added there has been strong support for the Mammoth Spring Ozarka site, which opened a year ago. He expects it to surpass 100 students this fall.

It is interesting to note that the other three campuses all have about the same number of students. For the Spring 2011 semester, Melbourne had 443 students, Ash Flat had 425 students and Mountain View had 397 students.

Dawe believes Ozarka enrollment would be much lower if it had just the Melbourne campus.

"Our strength, we believe, and it predates me, has always been: Go where the students are," said Dawe. "Because of winter weather, deer, the cost of gas, a fairly large percentage of our student population just couldn't attend college (without sites close to where they live)."

Dawe is excited about the new school year and improvements in curriculum and facilities, which are on the drawing board.

The President admits he works his staff hard and he has one regret as the new year gets underway.

"We would like to have given our hard working and dedicated staff a modest COLA (cost of living adjustment) this year, but we were restricted from doing that."

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Ozarka college is a great value and I have heard nothing but good things about the faculty and the school. Good job!

-- Posted by conventional1 on Mon, Aug 15, 2011, at 11:54 AM

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