Promise class of 2011 still in school

Originally Published November 25, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated November 23, 2012 at 9:02 a.m.
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Students who were then Arkadelphia High School seniors signed up to receive the first Arkadelphia Promise Scholarships on May 17, 2011. A report just released states that 70 percent of the students who entered college as Promise Scholars are still in school.

— On May 18, 2011, 120 Arkadelphia High School students were announced as eligible for the first Arkadelphia Promise Scholarships during a rally held in the school’s gym.

After graduation, 90 of those students were the first to enter college using the scholarships provided by a partnership of Southern Bancorp and the Ross

Foundation that will help students pay tuition and mandatory fees up to the highest rate charged by a public university in Arkansas.

A report issued Nov. 16 by the Arkadelphia Promise states that as the fall 2012 semester closes, 63 of the 90 students who took advantage of the Promise Scholarships remain in college for their sophomore year.

“That’s a retention rate of 70 percent,” said Jason Jones, executive director of the Arkadelphia Promise. “The retention rate for all Arkansas freshmen is 61.4 percent, and the national retention rate is 67.4 percent.”

Jones said he and the others involved in the Arkadelphia Promise are “tickled to death” to see that the scholarship students are staying in college at a rate almost nine points higher than the state average.

The state and national averages were supplied by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education,

headquartered in Little Rock.

“We know that those who make it back to college for their sophomore year are much more likely to finish,” Jones said, “so this is a big step to a degree for these students.”

Along with the scholarship, Jones credits the high retention rate for Promise students to the advice and counseling given the students while they were still at Arkadelphia High School.

“I met with each student individually to try and provide information about degree opportunities, and the other programs available, such as the Pell Grants, work study and, if necessary, student loans,” Jones said. “We advised students to stay away from loans as much as possible, but I told them what they might face when they finished school.”

Jones has also talked with students about being properly prepared for going to college.

“I talked with them about the GPA and the ACT scores they would need,” he said. “You know it’s working when you go to a restaurant and a 17-year-old comes to your table and wants to talk about his college entrance forms.”

For the class of 2012, who signed up for the scholarship in May and entered college this fall, Jones said he started to work with them as juniors and seniors to see that they were prepared to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the Promise.

Jones credited the Arkadelphia High School staff with cooperating with the Promise efforts.

Superintendent Donnie Whitten of the Arkadelphia School District also linked more students staying in college to an increase in “academic rigor” at the high school.

“Our goal is to produce students who have every tool and are prepared in every way possible to be successful in life after high school,” Whitten said. “For those graduates who pursue a college degree, the things they need most are academic fortitude to make the grades, and financial assistance to pay the bills.”

The superintendent said the school district is one of the few in the state that can provide both for its students.

On the day the first students signed up for the Promise Scholarships, Gov. Mike Beebe was at the rally at Arkadelphia High School and told the signers they have “an obligation to Arkadelphia and its people.

“Never forget Arkadelphia, and never forget those people who have done this for you,” Beebe told the students gathered in the gym. “Thank them not with lip service, but by staying in school, graduating and then coming home and

making something of yourself.”

Jones said that of the 63 students who remain in college this fall, 40 are still living in Arkadelphia and attending school close to home, including Ouachita Baptist University, Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, College of the Ouachitas in Malvern and the University of Arkansas

Community College-Hope.

“There is a decent chance these kids will become a part of the local workforce and the local economy,” he said. “One of the goals for the Promise is to provide the community with a more-educated workforce.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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