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2 Ark. schools want to switch bonds to cover nursing school costs


Two Arkansas universities want to shift money set aside by a statewide bond issue to help fund improvements to their nursing programs, as enrollment and interest climbs in the field.

Both Henderson State University in Arkadelphia and Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia have asked the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board for funding for nursing school buildings. The funding, $1.79 million for Henderson and $1 million for Southern Arkansas, had been earmarked for the two schools out of a $250 million bond package approved by state voters last year.

Both schools will be before the higher education board Wednesday to discuss their requests.

Arkansas Tech University in Ozark also plans to ask the higher education board permission to switch about $400,000 set aside for a maintenance building to a new 10,000-square-foot building to house its offices of admission, financial aid and fiscal services.

At Henderson, officials want about $1.8 million to build a new, 11,000-square-foot building to house classes and laboratories for nursing students. Charles Dunn, the school’s president, said the new building will be part of a planned swap that would put the university’s admissions office and welcome center in its president’s home, out of Foster Hall, which it shares with the nursing program.

Dunn said the technology center the school planned to build with its bond money would instead go into Foster Hall. About 250 of the university’s 3,600 students are in Henderson’s bachelor’s degree for nursing and Dunn said the nursing program grows every year.

“It’s sort of a shuffling of cards,” Dunn said. “The only criticism we’ve received on our nursing program is space.”

At Southern Arkansas, officials hope to take $1 million from a planned University Science Center to fund a 9,116-square-foot expansion of its Wharton Nursing Building. Darrell Morrison, the school’s vice president for finance, said the expansion could help the school become accredited for a master’s program in nursing.

Currently, the school offers its growing number of nursing students a bachelor’s program, Morrison said.

“We have seen really a large increase for the space we’ve had,” he said. “We’re pulling students from a lot of regions, not just Arkansas, but north Louisiana … and northeast Texas.”

Morrison said the science center, which would pull all of its science studies into one building, might make up the lost funding through local projects money from Gov. Mike Beebe or cash the universities has on hand.

If the higher education commission approves the shifts for Henderson and Southern Arkansas, the schools would need to show the legislative council it had the money on hand to cover the bond. After that, officials could go out to bid on their projects. Southern Arkansas hopes their improvements will land a master’s program in the next two years, while Henderson looks to have its new nursing building complete in fall 2008.

The $250 million bond package, approved by more than two-thirds of voters in the 2006 election, provides funding to all the state’s four-year universities and two-year community colleges. The college bond package will refinance $100 million of past education debt and the state will borrow another $150 million to build and renovate classrooms, laboratories and other facilities. University campuses and the University of Arkansas system office will split $100 million, with the state’s 22 community colleges splitting $50 million.

– Associated Press

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