Due to an error made while configuring numbers and to stay in alignment with the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the Southeast Arkansas College Board of Trustees voted to reduce the tuition fee from $3 to $2 per credit hour in 2019. The decision was made at a meeting held Wednesday.

In a previous meeting, a tuition increase from $1 to $3 per credit hour was decided upon after looking at the projected enrollment based on semester credit hours and the prior years’ trends.

From 2015 to 2016, enrollment declined from 31,555 to 31,003, showing a 2 percent decrease. From 2016 to 2017, enrollment decreased from 31,003 to 28,442, showing an 8 percent decline.

The board also voted to approve adding a security fee of $4 per credit hour and an infrastructure fee of $6 per credit hour to the cost of attending the college.

SEARK President Steven Bloomberg said that 65 percent of colleges have a security fee applied and are planning to increase those fees this upcoming school year. Other colleges also have infrastructure fees applied.

Bloomberg said that the security fee would go towards having campus security updated by replacing systematic cameras, installing a centralized location for camera monitoring, installing parking lot cameras and installing emergency phones throughout the campus.

“My number one concern is the safety of our students, faculty and staff,” Bloomberg said.

He also said that the infrastructure fee would go towards critical maintenance like parking lot updates, fixing potholes in the parking lot and replacing equipment such as boilers and chillers used in the technical classes.

Ken Johnson, vice chair of the SEARK Board of Trustees, expressed that adding the infrastructure fee would be placing a lot on the students, and he would prefer to revisit the fee at a later time.

“I’m just worried about how this fee will affect the college socio-economically,” Johnson said.

In response, Bloomberg said that the college has partnered with Cengage to make textbooks cheaper for SEARK students.

“Students will save hundreds of dollars with this program,” he said. “We will be the first college in the state to implement a program like this.”

Students will have access to the textbook program August 2018.

Bloomberg also said that there will be a $175 increase in the Pell Grant, which 89 percent of SEARK students receive.

The majority of the board agreed that with the textbook program and the Pell Grant increase, the changes in fees would not place a burden on students and SEARK would still remain one of the most affordable colleges.

SEARK is 1 of 6 colleges in the state that does not receive a millage rate, so the college is dependent upon two primary sources of revenue to operate: state appropriation and money derived and generated through tuition and fees.

In other news, the board voted to approve the negotiation and finalize a two-year lease agreement with Seabrook Family Christian Center located at 6808 South Hazel Street.

“This is an attempt by the institution to develop a stronger sense of community with our students, and provide access to a health and wellness center for our faculty, staff, and students,” Bloomberg said.

He went on to say that faculty, staff, and students were surveyed regarding the college leasing Seabrook. More than 50 percent of the SEARK faculty and staff responded to the survey and 20 percent of the student body responded to the survey.

The survey shows that there is strong support from the faculty, staff, and students to engage in wellness activities and programs to strengthen the mind, body, and spirit.

After the two year agreement, three things could happen: SEARK could request an extension of the lease, they could execute a previously agreed purchase price, or they could terminate the lease and return the property to the Seabrook Board of Directors if it does not work out.

“I think it will be a great opportunity for our institution to offer more value-added opportunities for faculty, staff, and students,” said Bloomberg. “I think it is part of our evolution as a college. I think we will see more recruitment opportunities and retention opportunities.”

Bloomberg said that there will be a tracking system in place, which he will report on quarterly. He stated that security will be present and everyone is required to have faculty, staff, or student identification to utilize the facility.

Duke Fakouri, vice president of the Seabrook Board of Directors, was present at the meeting to report that the condition of the facility is above average, needing only cosmetic fixing due to hail damage. He said that the facility is clean and can be reopened tomorrow if needed.

The cost of leasing the Seabrook facility is approximately $150,000, which is inclusive of everything that will be needed to run, facilitate and operate the facility.

In other news, Bloomberg presented a five-year strategic plan to the board, which was approved.

The plan is intended to propel the college to unprecedented heights. It encompasses strategies for becoming five forces during the next five years that will be fundamental to the success of the college and community.

The five forces include: change and growth force, educational force, economic force, interventive force and support force.

The plan also includes key initiatives as well as strategies and actions for the next five years.

In other news, the board approved a Memorandum of Understanding between SEARK and SEARK Foundation, Inc. for Scholarships and Fiscal Services.

“This agreement memorializes the relationship between SEARK and its foundation,” Bloomberg said.

The agreement, which is required by auditors, is established in compliance with standard operating procedures for colleges that engage in fundraising.

During the meeting it was announced that Ken Johnson, current vice chair of the SEARK Board of Trustees, will be the chair of the Board of Trustees effective at the next board meeting in July. Al Lowery, current secretary, will become the vice chair.