ARKADELPHIA, Ark. (AP) — Two Arkansas universities are closer to a merger after receiving approval from a regional accrediting agency.

The Higher Learning Commission has approved the proposed merger of Henderson State University into the Arkansas State University System, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Henderson State, located in Arkadelphia, has faced financial difficulties in recent years. The school reported an enrollment of more than 3,000 students this fall.

“We look forward to continuing Henderson’s rich traditions and mission of service to students as a member of the ASU System,” Henderson State University Interim Chancellor Jim Borsig said in a news release. “I am confident that this affiliation will continue to strengthen Henderson, and I am grateful to the Higher Learning Commission for confirming this important step in the process.”

Officials are hopeful the merger will be complete early next year.