Passage of Bond Issue Critical for UACCM

On Tuesday, November 7, voters will have the opportunity to pass a bond issue that could greatly benefit current and future students of higher education in Arkansas with no expense to taxpayers and no additional annual debt service for the state. These bonds are necessary to ensure that the state’s public colleges and universities are adequately funded so that every person in Arkansas who desires a quality college education can receive one without leaving the state. 
A vote of “Yes” on the Referred Question 1, or ACT 1, “Arkansas Higher Education Technology and Facility Improvement Act of 2005,” will allow the Arkansas Development Finance Authority to issue up to $250 million in college savings bonds for much-needed improvement of technology and expansion of facilities in higher education. Overall, the bond sale will give $150 million to the state’s public institutions of higher education. The remaining $100 million will be used to refinance the existing bond issue from the 1989 College Savings Bond Act at a better interest rate. Rather than increasing the annual bond payment, the state’s current annual $24 million payment in debt services will be extended for about 14 more years.
Proceeds from the higher education bond sale would result in the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton receiving approximately $3.15 million for the construction of a new library. The library complex would include expanded library services, general-use classrooms, and faculty offices. 
The E. Allen Gordon Library at UACCM was last remodeled in 1994. Since that time, the college’s enrollment has grown by 229 percent. In recent student and graduate surveys administered by UACCM, students have indicated that the college library requires a larger variety of resources to meet their research needs.
On a state-wide level, improvements in facilities, infrastructure, and technology are needed for Arkansas colleges and universities to remain competitive with neighboring states. Oklahoma recently pledged $500 million in bonds for higher education; Tennessee allocated $455 million for higher education for the two-year period of 2005-07; Mississippi has issued more than $600 million in higher education bonds the past 10 years; Missouri just allocated $350 million for capital projects on its college campuses; and Texas has just issued $1 billion in bonds for higher education.  
Since 1995, the number of associate degrees awarded annually in Arkansas has gone up 98 percent to 4,971 awards in 2005. Arkansas’ public universities have awarded more than 85,000 baccalaureate degrees since 1995.  
Enrollment at Arkansas’ colleges and universities is up 63.5 percent to more than 101,000 students since 1990 when the College Savings Bond Program was originally passed by the voters. The college-going rate at state colleges are all at record levels; however, in terms of constant dollars, 2004-05 funding was the lowest level per full-time-equivalent student since 1979-80.
According to UACCM Director of Institutional Advancement Mary Clark, the passage of this ballot is a win-win situation because: no new taxes are required; each public college will receive a portion of the money (based on its enrollment, space needs, use of debt service capacity and use of facilities); this project will allow institutions to serve additional students, strengthen academic programs, improve information technology, maintain accreditation, and increase research and grant activities; and higher education savings bonds are a cost-effective way for Arkansans to save for the college educations of their children or grandchildren. These bonds are purchased at a discounted price depending on the bond’s maturity date and serve as a low-risk, long-term investment opportunity.
Clark states, “During the past 20 years, while the state has on occasion contributed a small portion of total construction costs, it has never funded the construction of a new building on the UACCM campus.  We have built all of the major new buildings by issuing our own bonds, borrowing money against future tuition income.”
This issue has been officially endorsed by many organizations throughout the state, including the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, Arkansas Farm Bureau, University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees, the UACCM Board of Visitors, the UACCM Foundation Board of Directors, and the UACCM Student Government Association.
On a local level, approval of the Higher Education Bond Program on November 7 will be a critical factor in UACCM’s ability to construct a new library in the next few years. On a state-wide level, voter support of this ballot issue will go a long way in helping Arkansas schools remain on par with their peers.

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