Taking a page from San Francisco and New York, both of which plan to offer free community college next year, lawmakers in Arkansas are hoping to get a bill passed through the Senate that would enable residents to go to a community college or two-year technical school for free.
Dubbed the “Arkansas Future Grants” program, college aid would be doled out on a first come, first serve basis. It would be open to students who are pursuing degrees in high demand fields such as computer science and welding. The bill will soon go to a vote in the Senate after easily passing the House of Representatives. It would be funded by repurposing $8.2 million in revenue from the Workforce improvement grant and Go! grant programs in Arkansas. “Through the new ArFuture Grant, we are ensuring that all Arkansans have access to affordable higher education,” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said in December when announcing the new program. According to Hutchinson, the plan will not only increase enrollment in post-secondary schools in the state, but it will also entice students to improve by providing them an opportunity to go to school for free and move up the economic ladder.
The grants do come with strings attached for the beneficiaries. With the college dropout rate high around the country and high in Arkansas in particular, the bill includes a degree of student accountability. Under ArFuture, all recipients have to meet monthly with a mentor in their program field. After graduation, the student must work full-time in the state for at least three years. If the student fails to meet its part of the deal, then the grant converts into a loan that must be paid back. According to ArkansasOnline, Arkansas has provided small grants for low income students attending college for the last decade, but the program has failed to take off. Arkansas typically ranks poorly in terms of college graduation rates, and it aims to stem that tide and keep graduates in the state with the new program.
Arkansas isn’t alone in pushing for free or debt-free college. Earlier this month, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced that all residents of the city can attend community college for free via the City College of San Francisco. That program kicks off in the fall. Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced a plan in which students of New York state households that earn under $125,000 annually can attend New York State Universities and community colleges in the state for free. The moves are designed to make college more accessible and affordable while attracting degree-holding graduates to work in state.
Author: Dave Rathmanner
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