Arkansas' Independent Colleges and Universities

Arkansas’ Independent Colleges and Universities (AICU) represents the state’s eleven accredited private institutions of higher education. The organization operates from offices in North Little Rock (Pulaski County), specializing in governmental and public relations for private higher education. As of 2019, the members of AICU are Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock (Pulaski County), Arkansas Colleges of Health Education in Fort Smith (Sebastian County), Central Baptist College in Conway (Faulkner County), Crowley’s Ridge College in Paragould (Greene County), Harding University in Searcy (White County), Hendrix College in Conway, John Brown University (JBU) in Siloam Springs (Benton County), Lyon College in Batesville (Independence County), Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) in Arkadelphia (Clark County), Philander Smith University in Little Rock, the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville (Johnson County), and Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge (Lawrence County).

What is now AICU was created from the merger of two related organizations: the Arkansas Foundation of Associated Colleges (AFAC), founded in 1954, and the Independent Colleges of Arkansas (ICA), founded in 1974. Charter members of AFAC were Arkansas College (now Lyon College), College of the Ozarks (now University of the Ozarks), Harding College (now Harding University), Hendrix College, John Brown University, Ouachita Baptist College (now Ouachita Baptist University), and Southern Baptist College (now Williams Baptist University). The stated mission of the organization was to: 1) interpret the aims, functions, and needs of the member colleges to the public, and 2) solicit funds for the benefit of the operating budgets of member colleges.

ICA was organized as a related organization to represent private colleges and universities in the area of public policy. In addition to the seven members of AFAC, ICA member institutions were Central Baptist College, Crowley’s Ridge College, Arkansas Baptist College, Philander Smith College, and Shorter College in North Little Rock.

Retired military officers served as the paid executives of the AFAC during its first two decades. General Hugh Cort led the organization as executive director from 1954 to 1958 and was succeeded by Colonel Cletus Bennett from 1958 to 1968 and Colonel Maurice Radcliffe from 1968 to 1974. They traveled throughout the state seeking financial support from businesses.

Merging of Organizations into AICU
AFAC changed its name to the Independent College Fund of Arkansas (ICFA) in 1983. In 1993, Central Baptist College became the eighth ICFA member. ICA and ICFA merged in 1998 under the name Arkansas’ Independent Colleges and Universities. By then, Shorter College had lost its accreditation and thus was not eligible for AICU membership.

There were four presidents (at title change from executive director) in a fourteen-year period: Max Jones (1974–1977), William Patterson (1977–1979), Frank Ivey (1980–1982), and Ben Elrod (1983–1988). When Elrod resigned to accept the presidency of OBU, central Arkansas businessman Kearney Dietz was hired as president. Dietz served for almost twenty-four years before retiring in January 2011, when he was replaced by Rex Nelson of Little Rock, who has long been involved with Arkansas journalism and politics. Rex Nelson announced his departure in May 2015, and Rex Horne, president of OBU, was named as his replacement.

Financial Efforts
Since AFAC’s founding in 1954, more than $20 million has been raised and distributed to member institutions. Even into the late 1980s, some annual gifts were as small as $50. In its formative years of what would become AICU, the budget was augmented by large personal gifts from Winthrop Rockefeller, who moved to Arkansas from New York in 1953. In the early years, the funds distributed to members were unrestricted and used for a variety of purposes. Now, all money raised is used for student scholarships.

In the early years of ICA’s policy efforts, the Arkansas General Assembly repeatedly attempted, unsuccessfully, to pass legislation providing a college tuition equalization grant to Arkansas students who chose to enroll in the state’s private institutions. When the achievement-based Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship was created by the Arkansas General Assembly in 1991, students were allowed to use the scholarship money at either public or private institutions in the state; this represented a major policy victory. In November 2008, Arkansas voters passed a lottery amendment that provides significant additional funds for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship program. Those funds may be used at either public or private in-state institutions.

Public Affairs Efforts
Though raising money for scholarships is still an important part of what AICU does, governmental and public affairs have become increasingly important through the years. The AICU president serves as the liaison between the eleven member institutions and the governor’s office, the Arkansas legislature, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, and the state’s congressional delegation. In the area of public affairs, the AICU president gives speeches statewide and writes articles to educate business and civic leaders about the importance of private higher education.

AICU Organization and Operations
AICU is governed by a board of trustees consisting of the eleven presidents of the member institutions and a group of more than twenty business and civic leaders from across the state. The AICU annual meeting is held each fall.

The eleven colleges and universities that are members of AICU are accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. AICU is a tax-exempt organization under federal and state laws. All contributions to the AICU scholarship fund are tax deductible.

Sixty percent of undesignated contributions to the AICU scholarship fund are divided equally among the eleven member institutions. The remaining forty percent of the funds are apportioned according to enrollment. AICU operating costs are paid in the form of dues by member institutions, meaning that 100 percent of contributions to the scholarship fund is distributed for scholarships.

AICU is an affiliate of several national organizations. These include the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which since 1976 has served as the unified voice in Washington DC of the nation’s private colleges and universities; the Foundation for Independent Higher Education (FIHE), a network of state-based private college fundraising organizations that was founded in 1959; and FIHE’s parent organization, the Council of Independent Colleges, founded in 1956.

For additional information:
Arkansas’ Independent Colleges and Universities. (accessed February 8, 2024).

Moritz, Gwen. “Facing the Cliff: Private Colleges Stare Down Demographic, Cultural Challenges.” Arkansas Business, September 9–15, 2019, pp. 1, 8.

National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. (accessed February 8, 2024).

Rex Nelson
Arkansas’ Independent Colleges and Universities


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