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Governor Beebe's Weekly Column and Radio Address: A Successful Promise

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Five years ago, the City of El Dorado made national news with an exceptional new scholarship program called the El Dorado Promise. Generously funded by the locally based Murphy Oil Corporation, the program covers the full cost of college for students who receive their entire K-12 education from the school district. Partial scholarships are available to students who graduate from El Dorado High School and have been in an El Dorado Public School since at least the ninth grade. To date, 997 students have received Promise scholarship funding.

Naturally, families wishing to give their children the opportunities that a college education creates are attracted to the district, and this was part of the program's design. School districts and towns across Southern Arkansas had been declining in enrollment and population. But since the Promise's inception, El Dorado has reversed the downward trend despite the national recession, and has retained an estimated 200 more students as of this school year.

Besides benefiting these families, the city, and area employers, the program is also bettering Arkansas. I have set the goal of doubling the number of college graduates in our State by 2025, and programs like the El Dorado Promise contribute to this objective. Ninety percent of the El Dorado High School's last graduating class enrolled in college. This figure is well above the national average of 67 percent. Enrollment at the local community college has increased, as has the number of degrees and certificates it awards. And not only are more of the high school's graduates going to college, a higher percentage of students are obtaining degrees.

We've seen that when these El Dorado students get to college, they're better prepared. The Promise program includes incentives for younger students to perform well academically, and studies show that they are outperforming their peers in math and literacy. Additionally, the district has seen a steady increase in the number of students who qualify for college credit because of their scores on Advanced Placement exams. As you can imagine, the end result of this effort is a higher rate of college graduates.

This program was the first of its kind in Arkansas, and one of the first nationally. Now, others in our State are following suit with the hopes of achieving the same exciting results. Arkadelphia offers a similar program, as do both Arkansas Northeastern College and Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas.

Greater educational attainment makes our economy more vibrant and improves our state's quality of life. That is why, as a State, education and economic development are our highest priorities. Communities and corporations that join in these efforts are elevating the quality of life and opportunities of our young people, which can give all of us better prospects for Arkansas's future.


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