After years of struggling to climb out of a financial hole, the University of Central Arkansas has gained ground and managed to tuck away $12,058,765 in unrestricted cash reserves, said President Tom Courtway during the Board of Trustee's retreat Friday.

The gain means the university is in a position to consider new projects, including improving its facilities, spokesman Jeff Pitchford said.

Trustees said they were impressed by UCA’s progress. Trustee Victor Green said the progress is “absolutely phenomenal.”

“It shows you what people can do when you work toward a common goal,” Green said.

Just five years ago, UCA struggled with a negative cash reserve of $6,835,463 for fiscal 2007-2008, according to documents provided by UCA. The school didn’t know whether it could meet its payroll obligations, but slowly began to crawl back into the black, officials said. Between fiscal 2008-2009 and fiscal 2011-2012, the university went from about $1.6 million to nearly $5.5 million. But the recent gain is only $3 million short of UCA’s ideal goal of $15 million in cash reserves and is a 120 percent jump over cash available at the same time last year.

Even after transferring $2.8 million for needs like housing and student services, another $4.5 million for educational facilities and paying the university’s payroll out of reserves, UCA has $12 million in unrestricted, unallocated cash reserves during what officials call the leanest month of the year.

“This university has made substantial progress,” Courtway said.

The turn around in UCA’s finances means the board can consider improving facilities and housing that have suffered in the past few years, Pitchford said. With UCA so close to reaching its cash financial goal, it’s time for the board to consider projects that the school needs, like a new science building and improved housing, trustees and Pitchford said.

Vice President of Finance and Administration Diane Newton said she and her team are developing a housing plan to show the board in September. Also, the university’s financial gain might mean a bonus payment to faculty if the total student enrollment increases this fall, Courtway said.

UCA has set aside about $1.7 million in a holding account that would fund a one-time, across-the-board bonus, Courtway said.

The increase in cash to UCA is the “culmination of hard work,” Board Chairman Bobby Reynolds said. Officials said the revenue build up is from all over campus.

When a professor retired, officials either didn’t rehire or postponed hiring and squirreled away the money that would have gone to the professor, Pitchford said. When a student who had earned a scholarship to UCA decided not to attend, that money went back to UCA coffers too, he said.

Newton said ways UCA built up its cash reserves include savings in salaries, scholarships and utilities over years.

“It’s not an individual, it’s the whole campus that has gotten us back on track,” Newton said.

The university’s policies have changed too, Newton said.

Since former President Lu Hardin left UCA in August 2008, the university has fought not to use cash for large purchases and to build up its reserves, officials said. Everything UCA does is evaluated, and there are no “knee-jerk” projects, Newton said.

“We are staying within our means,” Pitchford said.