The Henderson State University Board of Trustees voted to join the Arkansas State University System on Thursday and proceed with development of a merger agreement.


The move is subject to approval of the ASU Board of Trustees and the Higher Learning Commission, as well as action by the Arkansas General Assembly, according to a news release.


ASU President Chuck Welch said the target for finalizing the transition would be no later than Jan. 1, 2021.


The board also voted in favor of Henderson retaining its name and mascot as a member of the ASU System and decided to seek outside legal counsel to finalize a merger agreement.


“We are enthusiastic about the decision of the Henderson State board to join the ASU System family,” Welch said. “We know system affiliation wasn’t an easy decision and pledge to do everything we can to honor Henderson’s rich tradition and mission of service to students. I’m confident that affiliation with the ASU System would strengthen Henderson, our institutions and all of higher education in Arkansas.”


On July 29, Henderson signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the ASU System to provide various operations support services to the university.


“I’m really pleased that Henderson State University will maintain its name, unique traditions and history as we serve the next generation of Reddies,” said Elaine Kneebone, acting president and general counsel of Henderson. “We look forward to working with the ASU System on the merger agreement.”


Welch was president of Henderson State from July 2008 to April 2011 immediately prior to becoming president of the ASU System.


Founded as a private institution in 1890, Henderson has a strong liberal arts heritage with more than 65 undergraduate and graduate programs that gives the university its status as Arkansas’s public liberal arts university. It became a public institution in 1929 and is the second oldest university in Arkansas under state control.


Henderson would become the second four-year institution in the ASU System and the third higher education institution to join the system in four years. Mid-South Community College in West Memphis became Arkansas State University Mid-South in July 2015, and College of the Ouachitas in Malvern will become Arkansas State University Three Rivers effective Jan. 1 pending approval of the Higher Learning Commission.


Henderson, which competes in NCAA Division II sports, would become the third ASU System institution with an intercollegiate athletics program. Arkansas State has an NCAA Division I program, and ASU Mid-South competes in NJCAA Division II men’s and women’s basketball.


The ASU System, based in Little Rock, serves almost 23,000 students on campuses in Arkansas and Queretaro, Mexico, and globally online with a total operating budget of $285 million.