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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A sharp drop in students at two-year colleges led to a one percent decline in overall total enrollment at Arkansas colleges and universities for the fall semester of 2014, according to preliminary figures released by the Arkansas Department for Higher Education.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/1uTZd150 ) Sunday that the department released preliminary figures showing that on the 11th day of classes there were 168,816 students in public and private institutions and at the state's private nursing schools. The number is down from 170,510 from the same period in 2013.
"Final enrollment numbers won't be available until after the semester ends, but we don't expect big changes based on what we've been seeing the last couple years," department Director Shane Broadway said in a news release.
Enrollment at two-year public colleges dropped by 4.7 percent - or 2,646 students - during the period.
"Numbers are trending to what they were before the recession when many Arkansans lost their jobs and began looking for more opportunities by way of a higher education," according to Broadway.
Enrollment increases were reported at other colleges and universities, including a 0.3 percent increase at public four-year institutions —rising from 97,688 students in the fall of 2013 to 98,022 students in 2014.
Private colleges in the state increased their rolls by 2.1 percent, going from 16,104 students in fall 2013 to 16,448 this fall.
The loss of students at two colleges - the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock - was so sharp that administrators called for budget cuts, instituted hiring freezes and are exploring collaborations to boost enrollment figures.
UALR's fall enrollment fell from 12,377 in 2013 to 11,681, said UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson. In a memorandum to employees, Anderson predicted a $5 million shortfall in tuition and fee revenue for the year.
There was no mention of layoffs, but Anderson said that "when personnel positions become vacant - for whatever reason - they will be left vacant."
Fall enrollment for Pulaski Technical College fell from 10,526 in 2013 to 9,244 this year, a 12.2 percent drop.
"For many, many years we were on a trajectory, and enrollment grew super-fast. Last year, we experienced a decline in students. We expected somewhat of a decline this fall - and our administration budgeted for a decline - but we didn't expect to have as significant a drop as what we have experienced," said Pulaski Tech spokesman Tracy Courage.
Arkansas Tech University in Russellville saw the greatest percentage increase in students this fall. The college enrolled 12,003 students - a 5.6 percent growth over the 11,369 students who enrolled in fall 2013.
Arkansas Tech is now the third-largest campus in the state, surpassed only by the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, with 26,237 students, and Arkansas State University-Jonesboro, with 13,135 students enrolled for fall semester.
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com