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Governor Beebe's Weekly Column and Radio Address: Complete College Arkansas


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This past week, Arkansas received a one-million-dollar grant to raise the state's college graduation rates. Complete College America, or CCA, selected Arkansas to receive this grant that will help us fuel innovative policy reforms aimed at significantly increasing college completion in our State. While Arkansas has shown strong improvement in early-childhood and K-12 education over the past several years, our students still lag behind in completing college degrees. This new grant, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, gives an inspiring boost to the initiatives we've already set in motion to reverse this discrepancy.

There were 33 states that competed for ten grants from Complete College America. Not only did Arkansas make the final cut, we were one of only three states to be chosen unanimously. Our strategies, aimed at dramatically increasing the success of college students, were deemed some of the most promising in the nation.

Producing more college graduates is a priority for more reasons than state pride. We need more college degrees in Arkansas to keep our workforce and economy globally competitive.

In January, I challenged the General Assembly and our State to join me in doubling the number of college graduates in Arkansas by 2025. The legislature took immediate steps to start us toward that goal, enacting legislation that will more strongly tie higher-education funding to course completion, rather than just to student enrollment.

There are two other laws that provide students with a wider variety of options if they require remedial courses of study. In Arkansas, remediation is one of the biggest obstacles to obtaining a degree. But different students need different levels of remediation, and one size does not fit all. We can now work to offer remediation that allows students to receive the preparation they need without unnecessarily holding back their college progress. The grant from Complete College America is sharply focused on overhauling remediation.

We will also use the CCA grant to craft policies that give vocational high-school students more credit toward associate's degrees. Concurrent-enrollment programs can help them obtain those degrees quicker and more affordably.

Initially, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education will work with nine Arkansas institutions to implement policies using the grant money. We hope to spread those policies throughout our higher-education system. The schools benefitting from the grant include ASU, ASU-Beebe, Arkansas Northeastern College, North Arkansas College, SAU-Tech, Arkansas Tech, UALR, UAPB, and UCA.

The State will have 18 months to implement these initiatives and begin to determine their effectiveness. We will watch how well they enhance student success and whether they help close attainment gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations.

There will be a lot of work to do over the next decade to improve higher education in Arkansas. Some ideas will work; some will not. But through it all, Arkansas will prove itself up to the challenge, and our people, our economy and our future will benefit from our efforts.

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