Arkansas: A Promise With Limits

"The free community college programs picking up steam across the country generally allow students to study whatever they want. But a new free community college initiative in Arkansas is looking to push students into the areas where the state has work force needs. To some free-college advocates, the initiative is more restrictive and limiting than other Promise programs, as the efforts are called," Inside Higher Ed reports.

"Last week, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed an act creating the Arkansas Future Grant, or ArFuture. Hutchinson is Republican and both houses of the state's Legislature are led by Republicans. The first grants would be available this fall.

The grant doesn’t require a minimum high school grade point average to qualify but goes to any traditional or nontraditional student -- meaning recent high school graduates and adults -- who enrolls in a science, technology, engineering or math field, or another high-demand field, at any of the state’s community or technical colleges. As a last-dollar grant, ArFuture would go to students only after they’ve received federal and state aid. Grant recipients must participate in a mentor or community service program, and after graduation, they must work full time in Arkansas for at least three years.

If students don’t fulfill the requirement, the grant converts to a loan that must be repaid to the state.

'This was a strategic decision to drive student enrollment to programs that lead them to employment,' said Maria Markham, director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

Markham said based off some Tennessee Promise data, they're expecting to see about 7,000 students utilize ArFuture.

'Part of the purpose of choosing high-demand fields is that we know those jobs are available if a student successfully completes,' she said, adding that nursing, welding, truck driving and advanced manufacturing are high-demand careers in the state."

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Publication Date: 3/20/2017

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