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College of the Ouachitas, ASU Boards Approve Merger


MALVERN, Ark. – College of the Ouachitas in Malvern will become the newest member institution of the Arkansas State University System on January 1 under a merger agreement approved and executed today. 

COTO photo
(Seated from left): COTO board secretary Rodney Allen, COTO board chair Bill Fowler, ASU board chair Niel Crowson and ASU board secretary Price Gardner. (Back left to right): COTO President Steve Rook, COTO board member Judge John Cole, COTO vice chairman Rick McClure, COTO board member Mark Roberts, COTO board member Diana Reggans, COTO board member Artie Gragg, ASU board member Christy Clark, ASU board member Dr. Tim Langford and ASU System president Dr. Charles Welch.

The COTO Board of Trustees and ASU System Board of Trustees approved resolutions authorizing the merger at meetings held in the Administration Building on the campus in Malvern. ASU System Board Chair Niel Crowson and COTO Board Chair Bill Fowler signed the agreement and transition plan, along with board secretaries, Price Gardner and Rodney Allen.

The merger is contingent upon approval by the Board of Trustees of the Higher Learning Commission. COTO and the ASU System will work together on that process during the next few months.

"I am thrilled about the direction our college is going," said Fowler. "The ASU System is the ideal fit for our students, our employees and the communities we serve."

As with the ASU System’s five other member institutions, College of the Ouachitas will become a member campus of the ASU System and will not be a branch campus or satellite campus of any other two-year or four-year institution. The name in which the college will be known will be agreed upon by both boards prior to Jan. 1.

Crowson said COTO will be a welcome addition to the ASU System.

“This is an exciting and historic day for the ASU System,” Crowson said. “The addition of College of the Ouachitas allows our system to provide even more opportunities to Arkansans across a much larger geographic area. This partnership will undoubtedly produce more educated Arkansans while facilitating more efficient operations. I appreciate the confidence of the COTO Board of Trustees, and we will do everything possible to ensure the institution’s continued success, growth and service to the region.”

The agreement states that the merger will allow both entities to more effectively and efficiently serve the increasing needs of the region and state, and also will enhance educational opportunities by providing benefits of the ASU System while retaining the community commitment of COTO.

A Board of Visitors will be created for the institution, and its initial members will be those serving as members of the COTO Board at the effective date. Retirement plans and providers for current COTO employees will be continued, but any employees hired after the official merger date will be enrolled in ASU System retirement plans. COTO plans to adopt the ASU System health plan for its employees effective Jan. 1.

Welch said COTO has a rich history of providing high-quality educational programs to residents of south-central Arkansas and that he is confident the partnership will only further elevate those offerings and opportunities.

“The ASU System is committed to developing collaborative relationships that promote greater operational efficiencies while maintaining strong local autonomy,” Welch added. “I believe COTO is a perfect fit for our system, and I am eager to get started working together.”

Steve Rook, who became president of COTO in 2016, will continue as the chief executive of the campus with the title of chancellor when the merger is completed.

“How befitting that this move is being made as the college celebrates its 50-year anniversary,” Rook said. “Although our name has changed over the years, our commitment as a higher education institution remains as strong as ever.  Quality education and student success are still, and will always be, our guiding principles.  Thanks to this move, our college will be able to take advantage of numerous additional resources available by being a part of the ASU System.”

Credit will be freely transferrable between COTO and other ASU System campuses. COTO is currently among 20 two-year institutions that have transfer articulation agreements with Arkansas State in Jonesboro for students who choose to continue their education beyond an associate degree. The 18 agreements with COTO include programs in business, computer science, humanities and communication.

COTO enrolls nearly 1,700 students annually and has 110 full-time faculty and staff with an annual operating budget of more than $12 million.

COTO is a comprehensive, public, two-year institution of higher education that provides accessible, high-value associate degrees and certificates in a quality academic environment that is focused on both student success and the economic development needs of the communities it serves. The college offers more than 60 programs of study in academic, career and technical disciplines to approximately 3,500 credit, non-credit, adult education (three sites—Hot Spring, Clark and Grant Counties) and workforce students, while serving the culturally and economically diverse populations in the five-county service area of Hot Spring, Saline, Clark, Grant and Dallas Counties. COTO also partners with high schools at Arkansas Christian Academy, Avilla Christian Academy, Benton, Bismarck, Glen Rose, Magnet Cove, Malvern, Poyen, Ouachita and Sheridan to offer concurrent core courses.

Additionally, COTO will staff the new 120,000-square-foot Saline County Career and Technical Education Center that will be funded by a recently approved county sales tax and open by 2021 to serve some 500 students.

The ASU System, based in Little Rock, serves more than 23,000 students throughout Arkansas and includes Arkansas State University, a four-year research institution in Jonesboro with a campus in Queretaro, Mexico; ASU-Beebe, with additional campuses in Heber Springs and Searcy and an instructional site at the Little Rock Air Force Base; ASU-Mountain Home; ASU-Newport, with additional campuses in Jonesboro and Marked Tree; and ASU Mid-South in West Memphis. For more information about the ASU System, visit ASUSystem.edu or follow on Twitter @ASUSystem.