Honors Arkansas Interview THV11

Declining birth rate projects 11% decrease in Arkansas college students

Honors colleges are coming together to try to get ahead of the problem.

 Decline in birth rate projects 11% decline in Arkansas college students

CONWAY, Ark. — With a decline in the birth rate for the next-generation, national data shows college enrollment will suffer.

UCA Honors College Interim Dean Patricia Smith said that over the next decade, Arkansas is projected to see an 11 percent decline in college enrollment.

The northern part of the U.S., however, could soon be hit the worst with falling numbers.

That means those college recruiters will be coming down to the south for exceptional students.

“We know that students who travel out of state for their undergraduate education are less likely to return to Arkansas for employment, and so losing our best and brightest students really could take a toll on our future economy if we don’t act now,” said University of Central Arkansas Honors College Interim Dean Patricia Smith.

That’s why 15 honors colleges from all over the state are coming together to prevent the oncoming brain drain.

They’ve created Honors Arkansas, an organization the first of its kind in the nation.

“We’re not just state schools. We are the state schools, private religious schools, and private colleges,” said the University of Arkansas Honors College Dean Lynda Coon.

“[We are showing] how we can actually get together and make the case for Honors education instead of the more stereotypical duking it out for great students.”

“We have goals, like working with the Governor’s office to develop internship programs, both in the political realm as well as other workforce opportunities,” said Smith.

“So, opportunities that our high school students could look at and say, ‘If I stay in state and participate in an Honors program or an Honors college then I’ll have these opportunities that I won’t get if I go out of state.'”

Link to Video

Honors Pandemic Course

Like every university, this spring we had to quickly and messily convert our honors classes at the University of Arkansas to a virtual delivery format. By the May intersession, most of us were still feeling shell shocked but Dean Lynda Coon (UA Honors College) soon realized the power of virtual engagement as she gathered faculty and experts for a pop-up class called Pandemic. This panel of a dozen experts, as well as Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, took on the crisis even as it was (and still is) unfolding. Sessions explored the current medical and political scene, the history of pandemics, an introduction to zoonotic viruses, the economic impact of the crisis, as well as the public health implications locally, nationally and internationally.

In a light bulb moment, we realized that the virtual class format was also ideal for including students from our other Honors Arkansas schools. (Honors Arkansas is a consortium of honors deans and directors from programs across all honors programs in the state.) We were delighted to welcome students from John Brown University, the University of Central Arkansas, Arkansas State University, Northwest Arkansas Community College, Arkansas State University at Mountain Home and Three Rivers, as well as National Park College. While the virtual format has its challenges, we would not have been as easily able to quickly and inexpensively gather these students together in a traditional class format.

This gathering gave us a forum for a variety of student voices that we were able to showcase both as LinkedIn articles and on our Honors College blog. Take a moment to read some of their great articles linked below.

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Read UA student Jonah Rapert’s understanding of the economic impact of the virus, and Sophia Gesualdi’s take on the supply chain issues best typified by the shortage of toilet paper. Jenny Wong works to understand scapegoating in the rush to understand who is to blame for the crisis. Sarah Svoboda, a senior from the University of Central Arkansas gives us insight into the Chinese perspective on the virus. Mandeep Kaur, a UA biochemistry and Spanish major, warns of the danger in using maps as fact.

Students from Arkansas’ two year colleges exemplified the excellent caliber of students at these institutions. NWACC’s Niala Gotel examines the current climate of xenophobia and the case for holistic thinking. Lauren Malte, transferring from Arkansas State University at Mountain Home to UA Fayetteville, begins with the wet markets as she relays the consequences of animal to human spillover. Finally Olivia Schapp, a recent transfer from NWACC to UA Fayetteville, cautions us about human-animal transmission as when she suggests that collaboration can save our cats during COVID-19.

The pop-up Pandemic Forum truly demonstrated the power of seizing opportunity in the midst of great challenge. As our leader at the UA Honors College likes to exhort,

“What is next??”