UAM welcomes state board of trustees
Thursday and Friday provided a unique opportunity for the University of Arkansas at Monticello to showcase it’s campus and provide insight into the many successful programs that it offers.
This opportunity came in the form of a campus visit and regularly scheduled meeting of the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees, the driving force in the state’s economic, educational and cultural advancement of higher education in Arkansas. While the Board of Trustees holds five regular meetings each year and the venue of these meetings are rotated throughout its campuses across the state, it has been several years since the board last held a meeting on UAM’s campus.
During the two-day event, the board’s Joint Hospital Committee, Audit Committee and Buildings and Grounds Committee met Thursday afternoon before being treated to dinner in the Gibson University Center’s Capital Room and an after-dinner gathering at the home of UAM Chancellor Dr. Jack Lassiter.
Early Friday morning, the committee met as a whole and Dr. Lassiter was permitted an allotted spot on the agenda where he presented a ‘State of the University’ address.
Lassiter told members of the board that the future of the university revolves around challenges and opportunities.
“When we say challenges, we do not necessarily mean problems,” he said. “But, there are several challenges that we must face in the future.”
Lassiter explained that during the last four-years, the public schools systems in the Southeast Arkansas region, where UAM attracts the majority of its students, lost over 1,500 students, a number spread across only 12 schools. Of that number the High Schools lost over 900 students alone, or 17 percent of their enrollment.
“That 900 students who are leaving represents about 400 students who will not be attending this university,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to make people stay in the area.
“Now, does that say that we are in trouble in Southeast Arkansas? Well I don’t believe so,” Lassiter added. “We have had some unfortunate closures of industries in the region, especially with timber related businesses, and those people had to go elsewhere to find work.”
Lassiter mentioned that the UAM satellite campuses in McGehee and Crossett are playing a major role in preparing the region and the university for the future.
“The Vice-Chancellors at our satellite campuses in McGehee and Crossett are doing a good job of training people,” he said. “Giving them work skills that will keep them in the area by helping them find full-time employment.”
Despite the down economic times, UAM has hit another milestone this year as far as enrollment is concerned.
“Our 3,960 students currently enrolled is a record for UAM,” he continued. “Our 11th year in a row that we have set an enrollment record.
Another challenge pointed out by Lassiter involved the educational background of a majority of UAM students.
“We often do the job of two year universities here because we have such a large portion of our student body who are first-generation college students,” he said. “And, without this university, I don’t believe that this would be possible (helping these students get a college degree). In fact, 61 percent of the graduates that received their diplomas in May were first-generation college graduates. That says a lot about the faculty and staff we have here.
“These students are going to be the future changes that happen in this region and If we were to close the doors, then I am not sure where these students would go,” he continued. “We are here to teach and help these students break the family cycle by creating an educational spirit that will last a lifetime and encourage those behind them to follow suit.”
Lassiter pointed out that the university’s successes revolve solely around the quality of its faculty and staff.
“We retain our faculty and staff not because of the salaries. In fact, we have the lowest salaries of any four-year institution in the state,” he explained. “We attract them and retain them because teaching is the primary function of focus on this campus.”
Lassiter said that having the board hold its meeting on campus presented such a great opportunity to showcase both the university facilities, faculty and student body.
“It is such an honor to have the board of trustees here,” said Lassiter.
“This (UAM) is a just a wonderful place to be. The group of faculty and staff that we have here really makes my job as Chancellor easy and I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with each of them. Compiled with the student body, we call ourselves a family. We call ourselves a ‘communiversity’.
“We are extremely glad that you are here and we hope that you enjoy your visit,” he concluded. “And, for those of you who have told me that this is their first trip to Monticello, I hope its not your last.”