It was in 1929 that the institution now known as Henderson State University faced the greatest crisis of its kind. The school was founded in 1890 as the Arkadelphia Methodist College. It was renamed Henderson College in 1904 in honor of the beneficiary Charles Christopher Henderson. It was moved back to Henderson-Brown College in 1911 to honor another beneficiary, Walter William Brown.
After 39 years of Methodist control, the church decided to withdraw the plug on Henderson-Brown.
“By 1929 enrollment was 153, down from 50 last year,” writes Henderson historian David Cസെsar. “The Methodist Church’s Little Rock Conference decided after a number of disputes to merge Henderson-Brown College and Hendrix College and to form a co – educational institution in Little Rock. The move to Little Rock never took place.
Henderson-Brown’s student body strongly opposed the merger, and after much deliberation with the state legislature, Henderson-Brown’s control was transferred to the state instead of closing its doors. Changed to, and remained so for about two years.
The newspaper and other media outlets covered Henderson’s current financial problems. In October 2019, the Henderson Board of Trustees unanimously voted to merge with the Arkansas State University system. The system, once President of Henderson, agreed that the school could retain its name.
ASU President Chuck Welch has fallen in love with Henderson since he became one of the youngest university presidents in the country in 2008.
Welch now has help to save Henderson. In November, Chuck Ambrose became chancellor of the school. Ambrose has previously served as President and CEO of KnowledgeWorks, a national foundation focusing on the future of education. His work as president of the University of Central Missouri from 2010-18 and of Pfeiffer University in North Carolina from 1998-2010 received national attention.
“Chuck Ambrose is universally loved and adored by students, teachers and the community in Warrensburg,” said former Missouri Governor Jane Nixon. “I saw firsthand how his leadership yielded results and people worked together.”
Now, Ambrose is once again attracting national attention, including Forbes.
“He knew the school was facing financial challenges for many years,” Michael Nietzsche writes for Forbes. “On February 3, Ambrose sent a letter to the university community stating that he planned to begin the process of declaring the university financially distressed.
“Financial distress is one of the most serious steps a college can take to declare financial distress, and it is commonly used only by institutions facing imminent and severe financial circumstances that threaten their overall survival. Under no circumstances can it be terminated as a means of reducing financial problems without a declaration of necessity. “
Nietzsche is the president of Emeritus, Missouri State University. He knows higher education better than most. He and others in higher education are watching what is happening in Arcadia. They understand that Ambrose will spend a spring cutting programs and dismiss the faculty and staff. In essence, he must demolish Henderson before the school can be rebuilt.
Welch is convinced that he is the right man for the job. He describes Ambrose as “a nationally renowned educator and innovator” with extensive experience in creating efficient and sustainable universities that focus on student success. His former classmates pay attention to how he knows each student. We hope to impress, and Henderson deserves this crucial moment in its history. “
During his first year in Central Missouri, Ambrose began implementing what became known as the Strategic Governance for Student Success Model. The project is designed to reduce operating costs by focusing more on students.
In partnership with the Lumina Foundation, Ambrose established the Missouri Innovation Campus with a new paradigm for curriculum development and ability-based learning. He established a public-private partnership that reduced the cost of graduation and eliminated the use of student loans.
Ambrose received the Missouri Governor’s Award for Economic Development as a result of his efforts in Central Missouri.
“If financial need – as difficult and traumatic as it is – can help Henderson serve our students better, it may encourage other colleges facing similar challenges to use it productively,” he told Forbes. “If rethinking Henderson can help us rethink college in a way that works for all students, then all these efforts will be worthwhile.
“The new business model for higher education is being defined in terms of how successful our students are in completing college and how their degree equips them for life and work.”
Senior editor Rex Nelson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He is also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnels Southernfried.com.