Arriving at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, a slew of Arkansas Razorback football fans slowly make their way to the entrance, all ready to watch the Hogs take on the rival LSU Conference.
As I enter the shimmering bowl, a sea of cardinal and white gradually grows larger and larger, closer and closer to the beginning. The metal stands begin to reverberate as the band sings the fight song. The familiar combination of scents hovered over the stands. Football players make their way out of the tunnel and take to the field.
I am overwhelmed with pride – for my state, but also for its pioneering university. Like the rest of Arkansas my age, growing up and going to the Razorback soccer games is a cherished pastime, passed down by every generation. I found instant love for the Razorbacks, encouraging them since they were born. My parents graduated from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville in the late ’90s, and I was always expected to follow in their footsteps and head up “The Hill.”
Going to high school, U of A kept on top of my college list, but I still applied to other schools. I was accepted into Georgetown and Columbia, two great but very expensive schools, with annual costs of attendance of $82,080 and $82,584 respectively. The cost of attendance at the University of Arkansas (which includes room and board, among other fees) for an in-state resident is $26,978.
However, when scholarship and financial aid packages come back from each university, my family and I will pay roughly the same price at a nationally famous university such as Columbia or Georgetown as I would have paid the full price at U of A.
Graduating high school students across the state face similar predicaments: whether to attend the University of Arkansas and afford it, or attend a school with a lower financial burden — or not attend college at all. The median household income in Arkansas in 2019 was $47,597, and even with other financial relief opportunities for in-state students like the Arkansas Challenge Scholarship, the joint student will still be billed as unmanageable, denying them further education.
What is disturbing is the growing tendency of U of A officials to prioritize out-of-state students in awarding prize money, as opposed to the original Arkansans who should be the target demographic.
U of A largely recruits out-of-state students through the so-called Arkansan Non-Resident Tuition Award, or NRTA. It stimulates the commitment of out-of-state students through academic thresholds where qualified applicants from eight surrounding states can seek to win a percentage of the difference between out-of-state tuition and in-state tuition. Recently, the management of U of A has made the academic requirements for this scholarship less stringent. It essentially confiscates potential scholarship money from in-state students and puts them in the hands of outsiders.
Such moves had direct effects on enrollment. Yes, U of A has grown over the past 10 years, increasing revenue, but excessively in the direction of non-residents. In 2011, Arkansas residents made up 65.1 percent of the total student body, and out-of-state non-international students made up 29.8 percent. In the fall of 2021, these statistics differed fundamentally, with Arkansas residents at 53.1 percent and non-residents at 42.8 percent.
More importantly, over the ten-year period, total college enrollment increased from 19,027 to 24,265, but enrollment in Arkansas decreased by 135, from 12,295 to 12,160. Arkans’s up-and-coming competitors are Texans, whose increase in college numbers went from 2,919 to 6,720, more than a quarter of the college population.
It may be an economic advantage for the U of A to attract likes from out-of-state students, but by giving them discounts on non-resident tuition that approximates the cost a student would pay in-state, it doesn’t make sense when those same dollars can be used to recruit more of the corners to attend the most sought-after universities in their state. Other than the U of A variable scholarship distribution requirements, there are other tools that can be used to prioritize Arkansan resident attendance.
Because the University of Arkansas is a public land-grant institution, much of its funding comes from the state itself, so the legislature can exercise some level of control over the management of the university. In states like North Carolina, the state legislature did exactly this at its main school: the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. According to the College Transitions advisory website, “[North Carolina] Students make up 82 percent of the student body and the state government has set a cap of 18 percent for non-residents.”
The Arkansas state government shares a portion of the responsibility for the infiltration of out-of-state students into the U of A, and can cap the admission of non-residents, or more importantly, scholarships.
For those cornerstones who have grown up cheering the Razorbacks, and immersed in their traditions, this is a goal for many to make the pilgrimage to Fayetteville after high school. Many of those hopes were dashed in favor of a student from Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, or Louisiana. The University of Arkansas’s top priority should be to make continuing education a real possibility for Arkans natives.
Henry Nathaniel Oltman is an Arkansas citizen and a first-year student at Columbia University in New York.