The future of the University of Central Arkansas and the City of Conway are inextricably tied together. UCA, founded in 1907, has evolved from a teachers college with 100 students to the state’s second largest university, with 12,650 students. And UCA has evolved in athletics, from three football national championships in the NAIA to its current Division I athletic program.
Conway’s population has increased by 150 percent in the past 27 years, from 20,375 in 1980 to approximately 55,000 residents today, which makes it one of the state’s largest cities. UCA and Conway have grown and continue to grow together. Fortunately, UCA and Conway have an extraordinary relationship. From transportation to road planning to community support, UCA and Conway have the same focus.UCA’s $150 million budget has a direct and dramatic impact on the City of Conway. With approximately 2,000 part-time and full-time employees, UCA is Conway’s largest employer. Student enrollment at UCA has grown 49% in the last five years, from 8,500 students in 2002 to 12,650 in 2007.
Since many UCA students remain in Conway after graduation, UCA provides a well-educated work force for Conway and Faulkner County. Thirty-two percent of Conway residents have a college degree, which is among the highest proportions among cities in the Mid-South, and it is the second-highest percentage among cities in Arkansas. And as a result of UCA’s graduates staying in Conway, census data from 2000 shows that Conway’s median age is 27.3, as compared to 36.0 for Arkansas as a whole.
UCA students and employees contribute significantly to the over $1 billion in retail sales that occur annually in Faulkner County. In fact, the economic impact from student expenditures is substantial. Many of their purchases are for personal items, such as entertainment, food, clothes and transportation, but for off-campus students, those outlays include housing and utilities. Estimated annual student expenditures total nearly $60 million.
Furthermore, in addition to its annual expenditures for operations, UCA has spent nearly $100 million in capital improvements over the last six years, including land acquisition, new construction and furnishings.
UCA also attracts an estimated 45,000 visitors from outside of Conway each year through special events, conferences, camps and campus activities. Many of these events take place over several days and require overnights stays in hotels and motels. Using the very conservative figure of $50 per visitor, UCA’s 45,000 visitors generate $2.25 million in direct spending. (The Arkansas Dept. of Parks and Tourism estimated in 2003 that an overnight visitor traveling 100 miles or more will spend $186.33 per day.)
As UCA continues to grow, it will continue to fuel the growth of Conway, through its direct economic impact, and by providing the educated workforce that will make Conway competitive for the best jobs.
UCA’s motto is “The Center of Learning,” and we are also proud to be at the center of economic development for Conway.
Lu Hardin is the president of the University of Central Arkansas.