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Governor Beebe's Weekly Column and Radio Address: Improvement by Degrees


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Our pursuit of excellence in Arkansas's educational system continues to produce positive results. The Arkansas Better Chance program, our early-childhood-education initiative, is ranked among the top 10 programs in the U.S. Education Week places Arkansas sixth nationally in overall K-12 education. And through programs like the Advanced Placement Strategies Grant, high-school students in Arkansas are out-performing their peers nationwide in improving their AP test scores.

Now there's more good news. The Southern Regional Education Board has measured increases in degrees awarded by public two-and-four-year institutions in 16 southern states. Arkansas ranked first in the region for its increase in degrees awarded at our four-year institutions, and second for our increase in degrees at two-year institutions. From 2007 to 2009, Arkansas also ranked number one among these states in expanding the percentage of bachelor's degrees awarded.

While our improvements set the curve for our sister states, Arkansas still has a long road ahead before we can say that we are satisfied. Along with the good news, we also find that we have the lowest rate of college completion among the 16 states in the study. We are ranked second from the bottom when it comes to the percentage of our population holding bachelor's degrees. Only 19% of Arkansans over the age of 25 hold a degree, compared to the national average of 28%. This part is not good news. We must do better if we are to make our state a leader in the global economy.

We have already begun to address some of the hurdles that hinder students in obtaining degrees. Other efforts are just beginning to take root.

Over the past year, Arkansas Works College and Career Coaches have been addressing the issue in the 21 counties with the greatest need. Financial-aid applications have increased by almost 92% in those counties. The Arkansas Works ACT Academy has also shown success in reducing college remediation. As many as three-fourths of Arkansas students enrolled in the program improved their test scores. And more than half scored 19 or higher on their ACTs and will not be required to take remedial courses in college. This is real progress, and it is beginning to make a real difference.

These programs are working to break through the financial and academic barriers many students face in pursuit of college degrees. I want to tie funding for higher education to course completion and graduation rates, not simply to enrollment. We can and must double the number of college graduates in Arkansas by 2025 if we are to stay competitive. We are on the right path, but we cannot waver in our efforts to improve our education system at every level.

I believe Arkansas will continue to garner regional and national attention for the progress we are making. While recognition reinforces our efforts, remember that we have a much bigger hill to climb. I believe that the momentum we have built will propel us upward as we continue our pursuit of excellence in education for every Arkansan.

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