Arkansas Division of Higher Education

The Arkansas Division of Higher Education is responsible for the regulation of the state’s public two-year and four-year institutions of higher education.

The first attempt to regulate higher education in the state came through the establishment of the Arkansas Committee on Higher Education in 1949, which consisted primarily of state legislators and the leaders of institutions of higher education. The commission’s report to the Arkansas General Assembly in 1951 recommended the creation of a control board to coordinate efforts regulating higher education. Prior to this, state institutions were fairly autonomous, and the legislature exercised oversight primarily through appropriations, which led to institutions competing with each other for state money. In addition, the commission reported that “in some cases local pride and local interest have forced upon the institutions courses of study which they were not adequately equipped to offer”—that is, the desire for a prestigious local college or university often outweighed the ability to maintain it. It was not until 1961 that the state legislature, in order to create some order out of the constant battle for state funds among Arkansas’s public institutions of higher education, created the Commission on Coordination of Higher Education Finance (CCHEF). CCHEF was responsible for coordinating and evaluating the budgets of public universities and colleges in the state and recommending to the Arkansas General Assembly appropriations for each of the institutions. The presidents and chancellors of state colleges and universities worked to make CCHEF as weak as possible, so as to protect their own interests and pet programs. Act 38 of 1971, which reshuffled a number of state agencies, created the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, which later became the Arkansas Division of Higher Education when it was reorganized under the larger umbrella of the Arkansas Department of Education with Act 910 of 2019, and transformed CCHEF into the State Board of Higher Education. In 1992, the state legislature created the Center for Workforce Excellence, a pilot project, to be run by the department, designed to “assist industrial development through the coordination of training programs and services.” Later, what eventually became the Division of Career and Technical Education was created to manage the state’s vocational and technical education programs; that division also oversees a number of financial aid programs. Act 1114 of 1997 replaced the State Board of Higher Education with the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board, half of whose twelve members are required to be current or recent members of the boards of public two-year and four-year state institutions of higher education.

For many years, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education served largely as a rubber stamp for the policies of the presidents and chancellors of the state’s institutions of higher education, and the agency thus received criticism for allowing repetitive programs and not promoting economies of scale. Not until 1983 did the state legislature mandate that the State Board of Higher Education review academic programs. Even then, the board did not obtain the power to terminate unproductive programs within the existing academic review until 1989. This new power put the department further at odds with the state’s university presidents and chancellors, and, in 1995, the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), having been turned down for the approval of doctoral programs and the granting of doctoral status, sued the State Board of Higher Education, claiming that Amendment 33 of the Arkansas constitution gave it sole responsibility for approving its own programs. The unsuccessful lawsuit went all the way to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The Division of Higher Education consists of four divisions: 1) Academic Affairs, which reviews and approves new academic programs at state colleges and universities, as well as administering federal grant programs; 2) Financial Aid, which oversees all financial aid programs for higher education in Arkansas, including the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship; 3) Institutional Finance, which provides recommendations to the state legislature regarding the appropriation of state monies among Arkansas’s colleges and universities, as well as consulting with the finance staff of said institutions; and 4) Research and Planning, which provides reports on student enrollment, demographics, and other statistical information. In addition, ADHE also administers the Carl D. Perkins CTE Postsecondary Program, a federal program focusing on career and technical education, as well as the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative, a financial aid program for students at two-year colleges.

The Division of Higher Education also oversees the distribution of the scholarships funded by monies collected from the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery. Under lottery creation legislation passed in 2009, any Arkansas high school graduate enrolled full time at an Arkansas college is eligible to receive the scholarship. Beginning the fall of 2010, students attending a four-year college received $2,500 each semester, with those attending a two-year institution receiving $1,250. Due to decreased lottery ticket sales, those amounts were reduced by $250 in the fall of 2011. Initial reports show that approximately sixty percent of students renewed the scholarship after the first year.

For additional information:
Arkansas Division of Higher Education. (accessed March 16, 2022).

Luck, H. D. Arkansas Higher Education, 1971–1995. San Antonio: The Watercress Press, 1996.

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


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