From 1947–1995, “Land of Opportunity” was the official motto of the great State of Arkansas, before it was changed to “The Natural State.” Arkansas is the birthplace of Wal-Mart and cheese dip (which is not to be confused with the queso of Texas), home of President Bill Clinton, and known for the Razorback football team. Yet, much like our beloved football team, the University of Arkansas might benefit from a “back to basics” training camp.
Despite being its previous motto, “Land of Opportunity” may not be the first thought that comes to mind about Arkansas. Consider the following: According to the Center for American Progress, Arkansas is ranked 48th in the nation in overall poverty, 26th in unemployment, and 49th in higher education attainment. Since 2015, just 32.2% of adults ages 25–34 have an associate’s degree or higher, and tuition in the University of Arkansas System continues to increase. A successful life is not necessarily dependent on attaining a college degree, but there is much room for improvement. These numbers show that the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees has the potential to provide more opportunity to its students and better accountability to the state’s taxpayers.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s (ACTA) recent report, How Much is Too Much? Controlling Administrative Costs through Effective Oversight, may help focus trustees on areas that need improvement. The report presents trustees with national median ratios of administrative versus instructional spending. To help trustees grapple with complex decisions, ACTA provided different ratios based on a school's size and research scope. This comparison is important in helping trustees better understand how much spending at their university is actually going towards the school’s mission—teaching students. The University of Arkansas–Fayetteville has a ratio of 0.24. This means that for every one dollar spent on instructional spending, 24 cents are spent on administrative costs.
As reported in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Fayetteville has one of the highest administrative spending ratios among its cohort of like-institutions (such as Louisiana State University and the University of Missouri). Mr. Ben Hyneman, Chairman of the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees, shared with the Gazette that “administrative spending is something we are always concerned about.”
There are administrative costs which are necessary to the University’s mission. The University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees is excellent at serving the multiple institutions underneath its purview. While each institution in the report may calculate administrative spending differently, this guide is a useful tool for the University of Arkansas Board to use as it weighs budgetary responsibilities. This is an opportunity for Arkansas to stand out among other states for transparent and accountable use of taxpayer funds. Careful administrative spending is crucial for providing Arkansas students with the opportunity to afford a degree.
Keeping higher education affordable is of the utmost importance when it comes to increasing student access. The people of Arkansas are wonderful; the students at the University of Arkansas are some of the best. I encourage the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees to take full advantage of this report as they consider final decisions on administrative and instructional costs. When students at the University of Arkansas can obtain success, Arkansas becomes a “Land of Opportunity.”
NPR, Elissa Nadworny
The Hill, Emily Bouck
The Hill, Frederick M. Hess and Lanae Erickson Hatalsky
The Atlantic, Connor Friedersdorf
The Hechinger Report, Meredith Kolodner
Inside Higher Ed, Jeremy Bauer-Wolf