Students whose annual family income is $25,000 or less may now attend Stephen F. Austin State University free for four years as a result of the SFA Purple Promise approved by the Board of Regents Tuesday.

The program will be available to all incoming freshman students who meet admission requirements and income threshold, complete a specified number of credit hours each semester and maintain certain academic standards. According to Dr. Richard Berry, provost and vice president for academic affairs, the new program is part of SFA's efforts to increase enrollment and support the state's "Closing the Gaps" initiative.

"We want to motivate students who may think college is out of reach to apply at SFA," said Dr. Richard Berry, provost and vice president for academic affairs. "This is an investment the university is willing to make in order to reassure students who may believe higher education is too expensive to be a part of their future."

In addition, the regents approved the allocation of $20,000 in matching funds to endow need-based scholarships for economically disadvantaged and first-generation college students. The Greater Texas Foundation, a Brazos County non-profit corporation, has donated $20,000 for the endowment with the condition that the gift be matched with institutional funds

SFA regents also voted at their regular meeting Tuesday to increase the required minimum score for undergraduates on the Test of English as a Foreign Language. The test is required for admission of international students. The decision to raise the required minimum score was based on data on the academic progress of non-native speakers of English collected by the administration and the Office of International Programs.

"Feedback from professors regarding the recent performance of undergraduate international students enrolled in English classes indicated that these students needed to demonstrate higher levels of vocabulary and writing skills before matriculation," said Dr. Daniel Norton, director of international programs at SFA. "I do not foresee that the increase in TOEFL requirements will have a negative impact on recruiting international students."

Revised admissions procedures at the SFA Early Childhood Lab that give priority to children of full-time university employees also were approved. The procedures require that students be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis with exceptions made for children with currently enrolled siblings or a parent employed full time at SFA. Length of time on the wait list is the next determining factor for allocating positions. Additionally, the Early Childhood Lab management may exercise professional judgment in determining the makeup of individual classrooms to maintain the highest quality care for children enrolled at the facility.

At their meeting Tuesday, SFA regents also approved issuing requests for proposals for a project architect and construction manager at risk to proceed with plans for a new freshman residence hall and multi-level parking garage. The proposals will be reviewed by university staff, and finalists will make presentations to the board at the April meeting.

Steve Westbrook, vice president for university affairs, said the proposed new residence hall would address the current need for additional on-campus housing, while also planning for future growth. The occupancy rate in SFA residence halls exceeded 100 percent throughout the fall 2008 semester.

The new residence hall also will offer enhanced academic support programs designed to increase the university's retention rate of first-year students, Westbrook said. "We know that once we move students from year one to year two, they are very likely to persist to graduation with us," Westbrook said.

The regents received a report on upcoming maintenance projects totaling $10 million. SFA is issuing tuition revenue bonds to complete the various deferred maintenance projects, which have been approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The projects include: a $700,000 renovation to the SFA Theatre where sets for university productions are assembled; a $2.5 million HVAC upgrade at the Nursing and Math Building; safety improvements such as upgraded fire alarms at various academic buildings totaling $700,000; and a new roof and other renovations at the Science Research Center totaling $150,000.

A $6 million renovation to the existing chemistry building also is planned, but the project will be deferred until the Texas Legislature makes a decision on the university's request for a proposed new molecular science building. SFA has submitted a tuition revenue bond request to the 81st Texas Legislature to construct the state-of-the art facility.

Regents also voted to:

  • Allocate $59,000 for the testing, adjusting and balancing of the new air-handling systems in the older section of the Baker Pattillo Student Center;
  • Approve the installation of new elevators at Steen Library and the Ferguson Building; swimming pool equipment replacement at the Norton H.P.E. Complex; and electrical upgrades to the northeast section of campus. The cost of these projects will total approximately $1 million;
  • Issue a Request for Qualifications for an energy service company to identify and evaluate energy savings opportunities and recommend improvements to be paid for with the energy savings;
  • Allow the administration to work with the City of Nacogdoches and the Texas Department of Transportation to reconfigure traffic signals and traffic flow at the intersection of North Street and Vista Drive;
  • Develop the site between the newly installed signage at the corner of North and College streets and the fine arts buildings with new landscaping and possibly a water feature;
  • Approve the 2007-2008 Annual Financial Report that was submitted to the governor, comptroller of public accounts, legislative budget board, state auditor, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and Texas State Library, as required by law;
  • Acknowledge the annual review of the university's investment policy and strategy;
  • Approve a list of qualified financial institutions and investment brokers;
  • And renew a contract between SFA and Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, Inc. to provide bookstore operations and management for the universit