July 13, 2024

Dr. Brendan Kelly, new system president for Arkansas State University

By Arkansas Delta Informer Staff – More than six months after longtime ASU President Dr. Chuck Welch stepped down, the Arkansas State University (ASU) System Board of Trustees has hired a new system president for the state’s second-largest university.

Dr. Brendan Kelly, president of the University of West Georgia, was selected as the new system president at a special ASU board meeting on June 6 at the Henderson State University campus. Kelly replaces former ASU System President Dr. Charles Welch, who resigned as “President Emeritus” from ASI in early January in recognition of his nearly 13 years of service as the system’s chief executive.

Dr. Robin Myers, who retired in July 2023 after 11 years as chancellor of ASU-Mountain Home, has served as interim ASU president since Jan. 15. He will continue in that position until Kelly’s official start date, which has not been finalized but will be no later than Oct. 1.

Since early January, the ASU board has worked with Washington, D.C.-based Academic Search to identify candidates for the position during the past two months. ASU Board Chair Christy Clark called Kelly’s hiring “an exciting and transformative day.”

The ASU system board is also working on a five-year contract for Kelly, whose annual salary will be $450,000. Trustee Price Gardner of Little Rock, who chaired the national search on behalf of the board, said 23 candidates applied for the university system’s top executive position and many more expressed interest.

“We are excited to welcome Brendan Kelly as our new system president. We believe Dr. Kelly’s experience and outstanding record of achievement throughout his career will continue the growth and development of our system and lead us in addressing the everchanging challenges facing higher education and our focus on student success,” said Garner. “He has been described as a visionary, talented communicator, and a person with the ability to elevate the reputation of the institution and further its mission. Our board looks forward to the opportunity to work with him.”

Kelly, who will reside in the system residence in Little Rock, said he was excited “about coming into this position because it’s such a great board. You make this a much more exciting opportunity.”

Kelly said he and his wife, Dr. Tressa Kelly, “work as a team” and have “been part of many wonderful university communities. We’re coming from one we love and cherish – that’s a great university.”

While at UWG, Kelly’s has been innovative in programming both inside and outside the classroom, emphasizing the creation of valuable life and career outcomes for students, with a commitment to launch and advance student careers upon graduation. He serves on the board of directors of multiple regional and state economic development entities and the Atlanta Regional Higher Education Consortium.

While leading and implementing the “Becoming UWG Strategic Plan,” Kelly has led UWG to record-breaking fund-raising efforts, including the largest gift in institutional history, and oversaw an enrollment resurgence. The UWG campuses in Carrollton, Newnan and Douglasville have a combined 12,769 students. Its spring enrollment was 11.4% higher than last year, while its graduate enrollment surged 41%. UWG recently completed a move in athletics from the NCAA Division II Gulf South Conference to the Division I Atlantic Sun Conference.

Prior to joining UWG in Carrollton, Ga., Kelly was chancellor at the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg and Greenville from 2017-2020. He was appointed as interim president of the University of South Carolina in 2019. He was also vice president of university advancement and president of the UWF Foundation, Inc., at the University of West Florida in Pensacola from 2013-2017, where he led a successful $50 million capital campaign. His teaching career spanned 13 years in Florida and Michigan in communication arts.

 “A university should have great mentors and great opportunities for students,” said Kelly. “I have been surrounded by brilliant people whose only goal was to pour into students. I believe strongly that if we do what’s right for students, we’ll never go wrong. I believe the energy that exists in most communities emanates from the universities we represent.”

ASU board approves $363 million budget, tuition hikes at A-State and Henderson State

During the recent board meeting, the A-State board also a $363.1 million budget, as well as tuition and fee hikes for 2024-2025 at the flagship ASU University (A-State) in Jonesboro and the system’s six other institutions, except for Henderson State University in Arkadelphia.

In discussing financial plans for 2024-2025, interim system president Robin Myers said the overall system budget—excluding Henderson—is 4.6% higher than last year’s budget. The increase is due to higher expenses due to inflation and ongoing efforts to be competitive with salaries to retain and recruit employees.

“With less state funding for higher education and limited enrollment growth, we have to make the tough decisions to raise tuition on all our campuses this year,” Myers said. “At the same time, we continue to partner with donors and use other resources to provide as much financial aid and scholarships as possible to keep costs to students affordable. I’m proud of our chancellors and their teams for working hard to control expenses while taking care of our employees who are delivering high-quality higher education experiences to our students.”

During trustee questions, Myers said ASU System campuses remain competitive with tuition and fees statewide. They continue to focus on supporting existing employees rather than adding staff, he said

For fiscal 2025, A-State in Jonesboro budgeted $221.2 million, an increase of 4.9% compared with last year, with a 4.3% increase in annualized tuition and fees. Tuition and fee rates will rise 3.7% at ASU-Beebe, 4.5% at ASU-Mountain Home, 5.4% at ASU Mid-South, 6.2% at ASU-Newport and 6.1% at ASU Three Rivers. 

Henderson State officially joined the ASU system in early 2021 after financial troubles and debt nearly pushed the four-year university into insolvency. Under ASU’s helm, Henderson has implemented a modified cash budget model during the past four years and returned to a traditional budget consistent with other campuses, officials said.

For 2020, Henderson’s tuition and fees will rise 9%—the first increase in three years—to address rising expenses and offset lower enrollment trends. Myers noted that Henderson faculty and staff took a 20% pay reduction and 40% retirement benefits cut in 2019 and have not had any restoration of those cuts—nor any raises—since then.

“It remains very frustrating that we can’t do more for our Henderson staff despite all their efforts these past five years,” he said.

Unlike K-12 school districts, Myers said higher education receives no annual state funding increases for salaries, health insurance, capital projects, utilities or deferred maintenance. State funding to some system institutions was reduced as productivity formula results were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 years.

Henderson Chancellor Trey Berry said the university had “an energetic and productive spring” with upward fall enrollment and housing trends.

He highlighted new agreements Henderson has signed with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen School of Law for pre-law students and with New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State for pre-medicine students. First-year students at Henderson will have the opportunity to gain medical school acceptance at NYIT without taking MCAT testing if they maintain a certain grade-point average.

The ASU System, based in Little Rock, currently serves almost 34,000 students annually on campuses in Arkansas and Queretaro, Mexico, and globally online with a total operating budget of $285 million.

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