LITTLE ROCK – Participation in athletics at Arkansas institutions of higher education has increased in recent years, even as total enrollment at colleges and universities has gone down.
About 3,900 students participated in athletics at 10 universities and seven colleges two years ago, the most recent school year for which statistics are available. That was a gain of more than 300 students over the previous year and the highest participation ever for a single academic year.
Total enrollment last year was almost 148,000. That included graduate students, private institutions, nursing students and everyone studying law, medicine, pharmacy and other careers.
Over the previous 10-year period, total enrollment in Arkansas went down by more than 24,000 students. Enrollment figures for the fall semester of 2023 will be released soon.
The state Division of Higher Education collects mountains of data from the four-year universities and two-year colleges supported by public funds. When the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board meets, its members are presented with a list of lengthy reports, tables, graphs and spreadsheets. For example, at its July meeting, the board's agenda was 143 pages.
Football was the most popular sport for student athletes, with 1,015 participating. Baseball was second, with 595 students participating. Coming in a close third was track and cross country, with 587 students participating.
The fourth most popular sport was men's basketball, with 263 student-athletes participating. Next was soccer with 244 participants, softball with 226, women's basketball with 223 and volleyball with 196.
Golf had 180 student athletes participating, swimming had 120 and tennis had 95. In miscellaneous other sports there were a combined 146 participants.
Of all the participants in college sports in Arkansas, 56.2%, or 2,185 students, received a partial scholarship. Only 14.3% , or 558 students, received a full scholarship.
The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville had the most student athletes, with 525, followed by the University of Central Arkansas at Conway with 478. The third highest number of student athletes, 438, attended Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.
Henderson State had 412 athletes and Arkansas State at Jonesboro had 387. The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff had 305 and Arkansas Tech at Russellville had 282. The University of Arkansas at Little Rock had 276 and the University of Arkansas at Monticello had 266. Finally, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith had 180 student athletes.
The combined budgets of all the state-supported colleges and universities that offer intercollegiate athletics will be $237 million this school year, according to data that each campus submitted to the Board of Higher Education Coordinating Board.
Of the total $237 million in spending on collegiate athletics, the Razorback program at Fayetteville is by far the largest, accounting for $152 million. ASU at Jonesboro is second, with an athletic program budget of $19.5 million. UCA at Conway is third, with an athletic program budget of $15.6 million.
UALR will spend about $10.4 million on athletics this school year. UAPB will spend an estimated $7.4 million on athletics and SAU in Magnolia will spend $6 million.
Editor's note: Sen. Joshua Bryant represents District 32 in Arkansas. He and his family live in Rogers. He serves on the Committee of Education and the committee on City, County and Local Affairs