Many Tech freshmen looking to medical, engineering fields

(The Courier) As the Arkansas Tech University Class of 2016 begins its journey to college graduation this week, many of those freshmen are majoring in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields believed to be critical to Arkansas’ economic development during the 21st century.

Nursing, engineering, bio-medical, early childhood education and management and marketing are the five most popular major fields of study among freshmen at Arkansas Tech who have declared a major.

“It seems that Arkansas Tech students are leaning more toward the health and biological sciences,” said Shauna Donnell, assistant vice president for enrollment management. “We have seen an increase in the number of freshmen entering those programs. Often times their choices are driven by what has been in the news recently concerning employment opportunities. One of the reasons you see so many nursing majors is because there is such a drastic shortage in that field. Nursing has been among the most popular major fields of study for the past four years.”

Donnell noted that higher standards at the secondary level in Arkansas have better prepared students to pursue college studies in the STEM fields.

“All of the students from across the state of Arkansas that we receive are better prepared than they were in the past,” said Donnell. “With the implementation of Smart Core requirements for high school students, particularly the standard that students complete a math course higher than algebra II, they arrive at college better prepared to tackle any of the sciences.”

Majors in the STEM fields are among the most popular for freshmen at Arkansas Tech who declare a major at the time of registration, but the largest group of freshmen year in and year out is the undeclared population.

Those students are able to utilize the resources of the Roy and Christine Sturgis Academic Advising Center in Rothwell Hall while they identify the major field of study they wish to pursue.

Donnell said the average number of times a college student changes his or her major field of study is 2.5, and that is one of the reasons why Arkansas Tech is committed to offering a wide variety of academic disciplines within its seven colleges — the College of Applied Sciences, the College of Arts and Humanities, the College of Business, the College of Education, the College of Natural and Health Sciences, the College of Professional Studies and Community Outreach and the Graduate College.

“Arkansas Tech has all of the most popular majors that students look for,” said Donnell. “The breadth of what they can study here makes a significant difference because as those students change their major, they know they can pursue other interests without transferring to a different institution.”

With tuition rising faster than the inflation rate, many parents and students around the Arkansas River Valley wonder how to pay for their education. However, despite the dismal picture many paint of rising costs and students drowning in debt, all is not hopeless.

Cost of college in the Arkansas River Valley

Local colleges are some of the cheapest in the state, but don’t think you’re trading quality for frugality. No matter your aspirations, you can find a way to achieve them.

Arkansas Tech University-Ozark and University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton offer technical certificates and associates degrees at a fraction of the cost of traditional four-year institutions.

ATU-Ozark charges $84 per credit hour for technical courses and $187 per hour for general education courses. At $85 per credit hour for in state tuition at UACCM, parents and students can save thousands of dollars each year by attending UACCM for a two-year degree.

However, many students require a four-year degree to be competitive in their chosen field. The $187 per credit hour cost of Arkansas Tech University compares favorably to the $205 per credit hour paid at University of Arkansas Fayetteville. The differences seem small but add up over time. And some students take advantage of the ATU transfer scholarship and attend UACCM for two years before finishing their degrees at ATU.

Tuition per credit hour is not the only cost to consider. Books, fees, transportation, and living expenses also need to be calculated. UACCM estimates a total annual cost of about $6,500, in addition to living expenses. This is a rough estimate as actual costs are highly dependent on number of hours taken and the individual degree program.

Apart from attending a community college and then transferring to a four-year institution like tech, to help keep college costs down, some students choose to live at home.

Tuition and fees, plus room and board at ATU will cost a student about $13,000 annually. Another way to keep costs low is to live frugally and if you take out student loans, don’t agree to receive more than you absolutely need.

Also, while it may be tempting to party hard, study hard instead. Don’t lose your scholarships or you’ll pay the price in more than just a hangover.

Help to pay for college

Something to keep in mind: As tuition rises, the size of financial aid packages rise. Unless you are paying for college 100 percent out of pocket, chances are you won’t have to pay much more than students did a few years ago. Here are a few financial aid options:

• Federal grants and student loans. By filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you may qualify to receive up to $5,550 in Pell Grants. Also available are numerous federal loans.

• Arkansas Challenge Scholarship. To receive a scholarship enabled by the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, all you need is to be a full-time student

• University dependent scholarships. High GPA? Majoring in education? There may be a scholarship that fits your test scores, GPA, or major.

• Area scholarships. Many organizations offer scholarships. Kiwanis Club, for example, offers a scholarship to sophomore fine arts students.

For more information on these programs and others, ask the financial aid office of the college of your choice for details and information catered specifically for you and your needs.

Sam Strasner of Arkansas Tech University and Laura Talley contributed information for this report.