Arkansas education wins the lottery

Here and Now

This story was originally covered by PRI’s Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.

The state of Arkansas was recently deluged with applications after it announced that it was awarding scholarships from lottery funds. Some 54,000 students applied to get $5,000 to attend local universities or $2,000 to attend community colleges. Overwhelmed with applications, the state could award only about 25,000 schollarships.

“Certainly we had more demand than we had funds,” Jim Purcell, director of the state’s Department of Higher Education, admitted to PRI’s Here and Now. Purcell still believes the year was a big success, having raised the number of students in the program from about 8,000 to almost 25,000.

The money comes from a citizen’s referendum to devote all funds from the state’s new lottery to student scholarships. Purcell told Here and Now that the lottery allowed them to spend about $125 million on Arkansas students who opt to get degrees inside of Arkansas.

“We really wanted to inspire Arkansans to get a degree in Arkansas and stay here and help as we move into the more modern economy,” said Purcell. In 2008, the US Census Bureau ranked Arkansas 49th out of 50 states in terms of people 25 years old and older with a bachelor’s degree or more. Less than 19 percent held BAs.

Not everyone is happy with the scholarship program, however. Many nontraditional students — people who have been out of school for a while but would like to go back — lost out. The Associated Press reports that the state used a formula to decide who would receive money: “The formula places 70 percent of importance on nearness to graduation, 20 percent on grades and 10 percent on field of study.”

One nontraditional student complained, saying that he didn’t understand why students like him weren’t a priority. “Nontraditional students have a harder time,” Bradley Binns told the AP. “We work full time. We’re the ones who have got to work our tails off to do school and work.”

Criticism aside, Purcell insists that the program the program will help increase degree production in the state. And considering the correlation between education and income, Purcell believes the scholarships could help the economic future of the state. He told Here and Now, “We do believe this will have an impact on our students’ success.

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