EStem feasibility study calls for better integration between schools

Student complaints drove UA Little Rock administration to hire Boyette Strategic Advisors, a management consultant located in the capital city, to conduct a study on the long-term feasibility of the arrangement with eStem and find possible solutions to the conflicts between the two schools. The researchers emerged with two solutions that they say could benefit both the university and high school.

Mark Poisel, vice chancellor for student affairs, indicated that Chancellor Andrew Rogerson requested the study after September’s housing survey showed that 72 percent of students thought the shared campus was a bad idea.

The firm conducted interviews and discussion groups with key leaders of both UA Little Rock and eStem, as well as other relevant community leaders and supporters. In addition, the team surveyed parents of eStem students, did qualitative research on successful practices in other similar partnerships, and made observations about current operational issues.

Researchers say that the heart of the conflict between UA Little Rock and eStem lies in the imbalance of benefits that each party receives. EStem’s presence creates a strain on the university’s facilities as well as a safety liability, without any clear advantage to offset these costs.

Lack of communication has also had a visible effect on the partnership by turning easily correctable misconceptions into real grievances. The study mentions, for example, that UA Little Rock students who took part in a facilitated discussion about eStem had almost no understanding of the partnership and believed that their tuition had been used to renovate Larson Hall. Moreover, the institutions have yet to negotiate a common metric by which to measure the success of the partnership.

Boyette identified increased enrollment and opportunities for improving instruction and research as the two potential major benefits of the partnership for UA Little Rock, neither of which has materialized thus far. Though the firm came up with four possible responses to the situation, it recommends only the latter two.

The third response is to construct a second facility for 10th and 11th graders fit with a cafeteria and amenities while utilizing Larson Hall for seniors, and implementing a dual enrollment offering that would be manageable for both eStem and the university.

The fourth also involves the introduction of a working dual enrollment program, and would fully integrate eStem seniors into UA Little Rock’s facilities and systems. This scenario would include the renovation of existing facility or the construction of a new one for eStem seniors and the addition of cafeteria space to Larson Hall.

At the smaller level, Boyette recommends that the university create a mentorship program between it and eStem’s students, develop a program where STEM graduate students collaborate with eStem teachers, include eStem students at the annual freshman convocation, extend free home game admission to eStem students on special nights, and spearhead joint campus and community service projects.

Simply limiting eStem’s enrollment or defining certain spaces for its students will resolve some of the complaints but will only make the high school a burden in the long run, the study indicates. It remains to be seen how Rogerson, who has stated that he feels the complications caused by the high school’s presence are “degrading the campus climate,” will take the firm’s advice. Given that the partnership was made before the chancellor stepped into office, he does not have a wealth of options at hand.

Whatever Rogerson and administration choose to do, it seems clear that eStem is here to stay. It is not certain which of the proposed solutions, if any, will see the light of day, but recent news leaves little doubt that administration will keep enrollment in mind when making their decision.

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