UCA Interim President Tom Courtway announced today that UCA will honor all scholarship offers made by the university admissions office to prospective students for the upcoming school year. Seems to make sense. What doesn't make sense is the need for the statement in the first place. Courtway's announcement came in response to letters sent by the UCA admissions office on April 24, notifying some students who had previously received offers that, because of a high acceptance rate and budgetary constraints, scholarship funds had been depleted.
"Regardless of the budget challenges facing the university, parents and students must be able to rely upon any scholarship offer from UCA that gave them until May 30, 2009, to respond," Courtway said. "Any person who received such an offer from the UCA Admissions Office may count on that offer and the May 30 deadline, and they should please disregard any communication to the contrary. We sincerely regret what has happened and we apologize to the students and families involved."
A UCA spokesperson says the letter was sent without Courtway's knowledge or approval. Not too long ago, we ran an item about how enrollment was likely to affect colleges in the state. Read the article here. The big question facing a lot of universities is, how many students will actually enroll? Not enough means less tuition revenue, too many may mean a decline in student services or an increase in costs for the school. When our story ran on March 26, Joe Darling, the vice president for enrollment services at UCA, said applications were up but the university would be spending less money on scholarships than it had in the past three or four years. He maintained that the university would not have trouble meeting its obligations.
More on this to come.
You can view the intial scholarship offer and the letters sent on April 24 (one to students who had already responded, the other to students who had not) here.
UPDATE: Tom Courtway calls in. I asked if it was indeed true that higher-than-expected acceptance rates and budgetary constraints were a problem. He said they would start looking into the issue tomorrow. He said the first order of business today was to assure families that scholarship offers would be honored. When asked if there was a lack of communication between the president's office and admissions, Courtway said, "It certainly appears that way."
Courtway said that over-obligating the university on scholarships could have repercussions down the road. The university might have to use one-time funds, including stimulus money, to help cover the costs. Courtway said the school may have to offer less scholarships in the future or change the criteria by which they are awarded. He also said It may make it tougher for the university to come into compliance with a new state law that prohibits state universities from spending more than 20 percent of their tuition and fee revenue on institutional scholarships (the law now allows spending of up to 30 percent and schools must comply by 2014). UCA currently spends 29 percent and a jump in scholarhip spending next year could make it difficult to bring that figure down. "We're going to have to make adjustments not just next year, but in subsequent years," Courtway said.