This is Governor Mike Beebe.
The road leading to a college education and a diploma can be challenging for anyone. And, often, it can seem like a financial impossibility for single mothers and fathers. In Arkansas, we are working to create opportunities for academic success and economic prosperity for every Arkansan, regardless of their financial standing. This next week, I will join with members of the Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund to celebrate and recognize the many families transformed through higher education.
For more than 20 years, this Scholarship Fund has assisted single parents as they seek to complete post-secondary education, find skilled employment, and become self-sufficient. This private, nonprofit corporation uses incentive scholarships to dramatically change the lives of Arkansas families. Local communities, working together, award scholarships to deserving single parents and help lift them and their children out of poverty.
It is gratifying to realize that 75% of all dollars awarded through the program comes from local businesses, civic organizations, churches, family foundations, and individuals. These donations are an investment not only in individuals, but in communities and in our state's 21st century workforce.
I have long supported the Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund because we share common priorities for the State of Arkansas. Those priorities are to provide excellent educational opportunities and increase economic prosperity for our citizens. But there's another reason I support it so strongly. I know personally how important this type of assistance can be to a single-parent family.
I was raised by a single mother who supported me on a waitress's tips. I saw firsthand the countless sacrifices that must be made and the constant struggle that a single mother must face. Through her love, support and guidance, she taught me the value of hard work and the importance of a strong education as the keys to a better life.
Nearly one quarter of all Arkansas families are led by women with no husband or father in the home. Approximately 48,000 female-led families with children under 18 are now living below the poverty line in our State. These women have the determination and drive to improve their lives and the lives of their families on their own. But in order to pursue a higher education and lift themselves and their children out of poverty, many of these parents need additional help.
Through the Scholarship Fund, local affiliates have awarded single parents more than 27,000 scholarships worth more than $15 million since 1990. In 2009, a comprehensive study of award recipients revealed a retention and graduation rate of 85%. On top of that, 67% of employed graduates were earning incomes above the poverty line. Working, single parents were succeeding academically, and education was the leverage they needed to escape poverty for themselves and their children.
I encourage single parents in Arkansas to apply for these scholarships. And I urge all Arkansans to continue supporting your local Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund.