NACOGDOCHES, Texas - New annual scholarships totaling $200,000 for Stephen F. Austin State University students preparing for careers in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) were approved by the Board of Regents Tuesday.
The scholarships will be funded almost entirely through the university's annual exclusive rights contract with Coca-Cola. Additionally, the regents established 11 campus residence scholarships for students who transfer to SFA as STEM majors. Those students will reside in a university-owned apartment complex located at 309 E. Starr Ave.
The scholarships are the latest evidence of the university's strong commitment to STEM education to help meet a critical need in Texas and the nation to prepare more college graduates in these high-demand fields, according to Dr. Kim Childs, dean of SFA's College of Sciences and Mathematics.
"As I have said many times, we are a nation at risk," Childs told the regents during a meeting of the Finance and Audit Committee on Monday. "SFA cannot fix the shortage of STEM majors across the nation, but we can produce more STEM majors in our region, and that, in turn, will strengthen our state and our nation as we widen the STEM pipeline."
Requirements and eligibility criteria for the new STEM scholarships will be established by the College of Sciences and Mathematics, and the first of the awards will be granted for the fall 2014 semester, she said.
The Board of Regents also approved an increase in designated tuition for the 2014-15 academic year during the quarterly meeting Tuesday. Designated tuition will be $171 per semester credit hour beginning in fall 2014, increasing from $158 per hour. The publication fee will increase from $6 to $8 per semester credit hour, and the technology fee will increase from $22 to $23 for a total difference of about $240 for a 15-hour semester. Regents also approved room-and-board rates that will increase 3.5 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively.
"(Setting the annual tuition rate) is a laborious process and certainly one that is not taken lightly," said Dr. Scott Coleman of Houston, chairman of the board's Finance and Audit Committee. "We are not here to make money. We are here to provide a service and to take care of the people who are providing that service."
During the committee meeting, regents and administrators discussed several leading factors that contributed to the decision to increase tuition slightly, including an extraordinary increase in the number of students, including military veterans and dependents, who receive tuition and fee exemptions mandated by the Texas Legislature, as well as the need to offer more competitive salaries for SFA faculty and staff members.
The regents adopted a summer budget totaling approximately $3.9 million. The figure represents an increase of more than $200,000 from last year's summer budget and includes approximately $2.29 million for faculty salaries and benefits.
House Bill 29, passed last year by the Texas Legislature, requires public universities to offer a fixed-rate tuition plan for all undergraduate students that is guaranteed not to change for 12 consecutive semesters. The regents approved an optional fixed-rate tuition plan for SFA on Tuesday. The fixed-rate designated tuition charge for new freshmen entering SFA this fall will be $192 per semester credit hour.
In other business, the Board of Regents voted to:
- continue with Merrill Lynch as its external investment management firm;
- approve various undergraduate and graduate curriculum changes for the university;
- establish course and lab fees, a distance education fee, and a study abroad student fee waiver for Fiscal Year 2015;
- revise various policies related to academic and student affairs, building and grounds, and financial affairs;
- accept additional grant awards allocable to Fiscal Year 2014 totaling more than $397,500;
- work with Siemens Industry Inc. to begin the third phase of the university's energy-savings contract;
- add a center handrail to existing aisles inside William R. Johnson Coliseum to increase safety and accessibility in the facility;
- complete renovations at a university-owned apartment complex on Starr Avenue that will be inhabited by STEM honors students beginning this fall;
- install new fire sprinkler systems in Griffith and Kerr halls;
- purchase new software and/or maintenance for existing software concerning library services, academic space utilization and student e-portfolio services;
- exempt dual-credit students from payment of statutory and designated tuition and other fees; and
- re-designate the traditional spirit logo that has been in place at SFA since 2004 as the university's official logo.