The Board of Trustees of the Southern Arkansas University System met Tuesday on the campus of SAU Tech in Camden to discuss an 11-item agenda that included updates from Dr. Trey Berry, president of SAU and Jason Morrison, chancellor of SAU Tech.
Berry told the board that SAU is considering a long-term energy-savings contract that would involve fitting the entire campus, all buildings and athletic facilities, with LED lights. Energy-saving upgrades to the heating and air systems as well as other solar energy initiatives might be included, based on results of an audit on the campus. Berry said some areas of campus might be useful for solar farms.
SAU would pay for the upgrades with its savings, though if the solar company is inaccurate in predicting how much the university saves, "they write us a check," Berry stated in a press release.
Trustees would ultimately decide whether to participate in the program. Berry said that after the audit is completed in January, he will present a full plan to the board. "This will help us all out both in the near future, and in the distant future," he said.
In other business, the board approved minority recruitment plans from both campuses. Dr. David Lanoue, provost and vice president for academic affairs at SAU, presented trustees with the 2017-18 Minority Recruitment and Retention report. SAU is emphasizing diversity in its strategic planning and working on ways to increase the number of minority applicants to faculty positions.
The university also hopes to "grow its own" minority faculty applicants by recruiting strong SAU graduates to come to work as teachers.
"This is a long-term process, but we have already done this with Darryl Webb, a full-time mathematics instructor and graduate of SAU," Lanoue said.
SAU is also reaching out to minority students with invitations to join the Leadership Academy. "We want them to know that they are welcome and valued," he said.
Trustees also passed a funding resolution for the president's home, increasing the budget for the residence to $1.4 million. David Nelson, vice-chair, said the house is about 45 days away from being move-in ready for the Berry family.
In other business, Berry said the fall semester is off to a great start in both Camden and Magnolia. SAU saw multiple renovations over the summer, including a complete renovation of the ground floor of Wilson Hall, where new LED lights were installed and new homes found for computer science and game design animation. Residence halls and apartments also received upgrades and new carpet was put down in Blanchard Hall.
A significant enhancement was the completion of the new shop building shell behind the Agriculture Center. The shop represents an expansion of the agriculture department's programs and services. It will include three shop classes, an agricultural mechanics methodology class, and, in the future, a food science laboratory.
Ground was also ceremonially broken recently for the new First Financial Bank Poultry Education Facility. A poultry science professor will be hired this spring and the first phase of the project, construction of the new poultry house, should be finished in March or April of 2019. Phase two of the project will be the construction of the processing facility. The university is seeking financial support for the degree program, which will be the only one of its kind south of Little Rock.
Construction has begun on Arkansas Hall, the new residence hall on the north end of the campus, with the steel structure and walls already in place. The new hall will be open by fall 2019.
Berry lauded Mulerider Kids College and Teen College, which hosted hundreds of young people from across the region this past summer. About 800 students attended Kids College.
"It's a tremendous way to expose kids to college. This is a great thing for our region," Berry said.
He added that SAU has a record freshman class enrollment of 901 and almost 2,000 students, also a record, living on campus. Berry noted that while international graduate student enrollment is down nationwide, SAU is concentrating its recruitment efforts on such countries as Korea, which has the second-largest number of students living in the United States.
Berry reported on SAU's new doctoral program, which he said is moving steadily forward, and updated the board on the possible new cyber criminology program, which pending Arkansas Department of Higher Education approval, is expected to begin in 2019. The program, currently in its curriculum-development stage, was specifically requested by area law enforcement.
"They will hire as many graduates of this program as we can produce," Berry said.
He also updated the board on SAU's successful athletic teams, including Mulerider football's 6-0 start to the season. Thanks to a generous donation, the university was recently able to put down new turf on the softball field.
"We had a championship team last year, and this is a great reward for those student athletes," Berry said.
Merchandise sales at the Beyond the Campus store in downtown Magnolia have also surpassed expectations, Berry said. The managers are MBA students with SAU undergraduate student workers. Thanks to mentor Sheryl Edwards, they are getting hands-on experience in all aspects of business.
"It is a great venture and has exceeded everything we have imagined," Berry said.
He told the board that in less than two years, SAU's Office of Development has raised more than $13 million and praised the development team and SAU friends and alumni for making that number possible.
In his presentation, Morrison informed the board that enrollment at SAU Tech is up for the first time in four years. He said Tech has increased enrollment by 150 students over last year, and is up by 300 from two years ago.
"There were only five community colleges in Arkansas that were up this year, and we are one of them. We offer the full college experience at half the cost," he said.
With the enrollment growth, Morrison said Tech will need 50-75 new beds in the next year.
Next fall, SAU Tech will also be home to a Division II women's softball team, the Lady Rockets. The college is now looking for a coach. Potential students as well as coaching applicants have already expressed interest.
"We're looking forward to what softball will add to our student community," Morrison said.
The board also approved 2016-2017 legislative audits presented by Shawana Reed, vice president for finance at SAU and Gaye Manning, vice chancellor of finance and administration at SAU Tech.