By SCARLET SIMS

LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

A waiver policy for out-of-state students living on campus at the University of Central Arkansas has come under scrutiny by faculty members who are looking into athletic department funding.

Athletics uses about 5 percent, or about $693,407, according to a 2012-2013 UCA budget spreadsheet.

Last year, at least one faculty member submitted questions through the Faculty Affairs II committee asking how much money UCA is losing because of the waivers. Students can get waivers and pay in-state tuition if they qualify under certain requirements like living on campus or being the child of a UCA graduate in the alumni association.

But do waivers actually attract students without costing UCA money that could go into housing?

UCA has struggled to maintain housing since sinking into about $7 million in debt in fiscal 2007-2008.

While eating, last fall in the newly built Student Center, sophomore Ashley Ross said some housing at UCA remains poor, even though the university has invested about $6.2 million in facilities since 2008. For example, State and Carmichael halls are not clean, Ross said. There’s mold on the ceilings, she said, and the air is always humid. Housing officials are slow about fixing appliances that break too, Ross said. The kitchen in Farris Hall, where Ross lived, had a broken appliance that went unfixed for months, she said.

The housing department plans to put $1.1 million into housing maintenance needs this summer, but UCA has $18.2 million in deferred maintenance needs for housing, according to university documents. UCA has critical needs that are about the same as the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, the largest and oldest university.

Officials can’t say for sure whether waivers are helping or hurting the school. Just how many students decided to come to UCA based on the waivers is unknown.

The deferred maintenance in housing is important enough to students that the student government has formed a committee and hopes build a "relationship" with members of housing this semester, student Housing Committee Chairman Colby Qualls said in an email through President Spencer Sims.

"In the next few weeks, our committee hopes to construct a focus group that will help the university make decisions to improve housing for students in the future," Qualls wrote.

The waiver question

The Faculty Affairs II committee is looking at how athletics is funded because some employees received pay raises via private donations when other faculty and staff did not. At the same time, the athletics department uses auxiliary funds, like housing, to fund itself.

Officials have said they want to stop using housing funds for athletics.

Professor Brian Bolter, who is over the committee looking into athletics department funding, did not return several emails asking questions about waivers and the committee. His phone’s voice mail would not accept messages.

President Tom Courtway has said recruiting and retaining students is key to pay raises at the university.

"The key to getting raises, having an equity pools and other matters on the E&G (Educational and General) side of the budget is (a) increasing enrollment, both undergraduate and graduate, and (b) improving student retention, coupled with reasonable and prudent increases in tuition and fees (and taking into account our state appropriates and private giving for academics,)" officials wrote in the document to the Faculty Affairs II members.

Waivers are needed as part of the method for recruiting students, Courtway said. They are an incentive to keep students on campus, which usually increases graduation rates, officials said. Originally, the idea was to boost enrollment and fill up resident halls, Courtway said.

He has no plans to revisit UCA’s waiver policy, he said.

UCA paid $1.2 million for waivers in spring 2013, the university’s records show. Of that, $155,716 went to students in athletics.

That policy was enacted — without input from the athletics department — in 2002, according to UCA documents. But in the past few years, UCA has seen total enrollment decline and state funding flatten as costs rise. Like other schools, UCA has struggled to keep students in school.

Even so, the number of waivers is increasing.

Enrollment down, waivers up

In November, the committee submitted questions to administrators, who responded in a lengthy document. Among those questions was: "What is the yearly loss in tuition revenue?"

But, finding whether there is a loss is impossible, said Diane Newton, vice president for finance and administration.

"You can assume we would have lost money just as easily as you could assume we would have gained money," Newton said.

Newton and other officials say some students might not have come to UCA without the waivers.

Universities statewide offer some type of waiver, and the issue has drawn enough ire in the past that legislators have previously looked into restricting them, said Shane Broadway, director of the state higher education department.

But the deal is sweet to hundreds of out-of-state students, UCA records show.

The number of waivers UCA has handed out has grown by 67 percent between fall 2008 and fall 2012, according to records the Log Cabin Democrat obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

In fall 2008, 380 out-of-state fee waivers were granted. This past semester, there were 515.

As the number of waivers has gone up, so too has the number of students from states outside of Arkansas. In 2009, students were from a total of 39 different states. In fall 2002, students were from 46 different states with Texas being the biggest contributor of students and growing fast. The number of students from Texas jumped 26 percent during the same time period, documents show.

During the same time period, the number of students from Arkansas attending UCA has declined.

Between fall 2009 and 2012, the number of students from Arkansas shrank 7 percent. Arkansas students still make up the majority of the student population, records show.

About 85 percent of incoming freshmen live on campus, Newton said. But just how many students UCA has living on campus with a waiver is not tracked, officials said.

Despite an increase in the number of waivers granted, UCA officials have watched as total enrollment has declined for years, records show. Broadway said part of that is because the university counted some students it shouldn’t have in some earlier enrollment figures.

While trustees seemed pleased about a 10 percent jump in freshmen enrollment this past fall, numbers were down overall. The university lost ground in international students and graduate students enrolling at UCA this year over last, records show. Looking back from fall 2009, UCA’s total enrollment declined about 6 percent.

In fall 2009, the university had an enrollment total of 11,781. In fall 2012, total enrollment had fallen to 11,107.

Even with falling enrollment, this past year, officials announced it had built up its unrestricted cash reserves to $12 million. For the first time in years, UCA is talking about building, officials are looking at constructing a new science facility.

The school wants to attract students, officials said.

Broadway said universities often use waivers as a way to attract students because costs to the university are going up and state funding isn’t keeping up.

"The bringing in of students from out of state helps to offset some of those costs," Broadway said. "If they weren’t coming in then the costs would more and more have to be born by the Arkansas students."

Whether the waivers actually work is an interesting question, Broadway said. In 2011, legislators worried state universities were giving too many benefits to out-of-state students through waivers. A bill to limit waivers universities could give to out-of-state students died in committee, according to the state legislature website.

Broadway said he didn’t know if the issue would come up again during the session that started Monday.