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OPINION | SUZANNE MCCRAY: A student at a time

U of A building pathway to success by SUZANNE MCCRAY SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | January 15, 2022 at 3:00 a.m.

As the state's land-grant, flagship institution, the University of Arkansas holds a special place of pride for all of us.

And although there are so many reasons to be proud of the U of A--from athletics to academics, from winning conference titles and bowl games to nationally competitive awards like the Rhodes Scholarship--our deepest source of pride has always been our students.

I am proud of the work we are doing at the University of Arkansas and equally proud of all we have accomplished so far. When I began working for the newly minted Honors College 20 years ago, the university's total enrollment was around 15,000 students. Today, we have nearly 15,000 students from Arkansas alone, and our total enrollment continues to break records.

As the university has grown, however, our top priority has always been to serve the students and state of Arkansas. It's a mission we take serious pride in each and every day.

Scholarships Dedicated to Arkansans

We know that for many students in Arkansas, a scholarship may mean the difference between attending college or not, so we prioritize supporting in-state students. In 2019, we added $5 million to our annual scholarship funds and dedicated those resources solely to Arkansans.

Of the Arkansas students who applied for scholarships this year, 97 percent received an award--that is up from 89 percent just two years ago. Likewise, 87 percent of all endowed fellowship dollars go to in-state students, as do more than 85 percent of our centrally funded scholarships. Such support creates opportunity and access, and that's a fundamental part of our land-grant charge.

Non-Resident Students Provide Essential Support for Arkansans

At the same time, just as more Arkansas students are enrolling today, the U of A is increasingly a destination for students from other states, despite the fact that we have the least generous program in the state for non-residents--who all must pay more than Arkansans to attend the university.

They come here because of the quality education they receive and because of the tremendous opportunity available in Arkansas. This growth has long benefited in-state students in a number of ways.

Revenue from non-resident student enrollment helps us increase the number of scholarships awarded to Arkansans and supports important projects like our new Student Success Center. Students from other states also add to the vitality of our campus.

By 2029, there will be fewer college-going Arkansas students than today due to several factors, including a drop in birth rates noted in 2008, and universities across the state have already begun to feel the impact of this downward demographic trend. We are building bridges for all our students, and in turn they are giving back to Arkansas in countless ways.

Record Number of Arkansans in the Freshman Class

Finally, I am proud of the number of Arkansas students who choose to attend the U of A. No qualified student from Arkansas is ever denied admission in favor of an out-of-state student, and thanks to a number of outreach programs at the university, we are fully engaged in supporting our partner high schools as they help students prepare for college.

As an Arkansan, an alum, a parent of graduates who were launched here, and as a longtime U of A faculty member, this matters to me as I know it does to all who engage with students on this campus. I became vice provost for enrollment in 2009. Since then, the number of Arkansans in the freshman class has increased 38 percent.

Last fall, more than 2,600 freshmen from across our state--a record number--arrived on campus to begin their academic careers. Here, they have found a Razorback community dedicated to their success, on campus and beyond it.

Providing Pathways to Success for Arkansas Students

Can we do more? Yes, and we are.

As our new Student Success Center opens this spring, we are creating new opportunities for our students to connect with their professors, advisers and peers for everything from academic enrichment to career advice. We are providing programs like the Accelerate Student Achievement Program, Engineering Career Awareness Program, the College Access Initiative, and the Path Program--all of which directly serve students from high schools in Arkansas.

We are making investments in service learning and research opportunities and collaborating with community partners to help our students take advantage of internships, study abroad and professional development.

For our future students, we continue to accept test-optional admissions applications and are working to enhance scholarship opportunities that support our students' financial needs and academic goals alike.

Such work takes careful planning, partnerships and support, but we are dedicated to making sure that all Arkansans are well prepared for college, and if they choose the University of Arkansas as their campus home, we will help them find a pathway to success that lasts a lifetime.

Dr. Suzanne McCray is the vice provost for enrollment management at the University of Arkansas. She is also an author who was raised in Arkansas, graduated from the University of Arkansas and is a parent of University of Arkansas alumni.

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