College enrollment rising | Arkansas Blog

College enrollment rising

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College enrollment in Arkansas is up this fall over last year by 5 percent.

You'll find the full Higher Education Department release on the jump. It credits deeper scholarship support from the Arkansas lottery and hard times — with no jobs, people go to school.

I'd like to make two small statistical points:

1) the 10-year growth in college enrollment is 49.7 percent — an average of about 5 percent a year, same as this year.

2) the Arkansas college enrollment on the same day in 2009 versus the same day in 2008 showed an increase of 6.2 percent. So I guess you could say the lottery scholarships SLOWED the rate of increase in Arkansas college enrollment. (Just joking, but I know, Durango, you get my point — we don't know enough yet to fully interpret the impact of the lottery on college going, much less on completion. We do know students and parents appreciate the dough.)

HIGHER EDUCATION DEPARTMENT RELEASE

Total fall semester enrollment at Arkansas colleges and universities increased by 5 percent compared to last year, according to preliminary figures released by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE). Of the state’s 44 public and private institutions, 37 enjoyed overall increases in enrollment with some institutions growing by double digit percentages.

“Overall, both the downturn in the economy and the expanded Academic Challenge Scholarship funded in part by the new lottery contributed to the growth in enrollment,” said ADHE director Jim Purcell, Ed.D. “While increased enrollment is great news, I look forward to seeing more college graduates a few years from now. We’re hopeful that by offering this scholarship to residents attending in-state schools, we’ll entice the best and brightest students to stay in Arkansas.”

Final enrollment numbers won’t be available until after the semester ends, but indications are that more Arkansans — recent high school graduates and non-traditional students ­— took advantage of new financial aid resources available from various sources, including the Arkansas Challenge Scholarship. Figures are based on a “snapshot” of enrollment on the 11th day of classes.

This year, more than 125,000 people applied online for scholarships, with about 58,000 Academic Challenge Scholarship applicants as compared to 15,000 in 2009.

The ADHE “YOUniversal Scholarship Application,” which was recently recognized by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers for its forward-thinking and user-friendly technology, allows a student to fill out one questionnaire relating to all state-funded scholarships. The program then informs the student which of the 21 scholarships for which he or she qualifies and should make application.

“We are delighted to have our web application recognized as exemplary,” said Tara Smith, director of financial aid at ADHE, “but most importantly it has enabled us to provide more awards from all our aid programs to deserving students.”

New legislation removed the income-based aspect of the Arkansas Challenge Scholarship and increased the award — with proceeds from the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery — to $5,000 a year for eligible students at four-year colleges and $2,500 a year for two-year schools. A record 29,222 Arkansas Challenge Scholarships have been awarded to date, as compared to 6,509 in 2009.

Many universities across Arkansas saw large increases in enrollment, including Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, which grew its student body by 11 percent, raising total numbers to 9,813. Arkansas State University in Jonesboro raised its enrollment by 10.5 percent to 13,438 students. University of Arkansas at Fayetteville saw an increase of nearly 8 percent, with 21,405 students enrolled.

Two-year colleges boasting the highest increases include Ouachita Technical College in Malvern, which had a jump of 29 percent to total 2,080 students. Ozarka College in Melbourne had an increase of 15 percent, with 1,573 enrolled for fall. Black River Technical College in Pocahontas had the third-largest increase at 12 percent, bringing its enrollment to 2,508.

Several private schools also enjoyed large increases, including Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, which raised its enrollment by 53 percent to 1,119. Central Baptist College in Conway had an increase of 19 percent to 742, while Crowley’s Ridge College in Paragould increased by 17 percent to 201.

Total enrollment at Arkansas colleges and universities has increased by 49.7 percent over the last 10 years.

“This trend toward increased participation in higher education is a result of citizens trying to be competitive in the changing work place,” Purcell said. “When businesses look to expand to Arkansas, they look at the education level of the community. Much of the growth in high-wage jobs have come to college towns like Fayetteville, Benton, Rogers, Jonesboro, Conway, Fort Smith and Little Rock. It’s no coincidence these are places where the educated population count is above the state average.”

The ADHE is responsible for carrying out the policy directives of the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board (AHECB), approving and reviewing college and university academic programs and developing funding recommendations for the state’s 11 public universities and 22 public two-year colleges as well as several other post-secondary entities. In addition, the agency is responsible for distributing approximately $140 million annually from state revenues and lottery funds intended to ease the financial burden of students seeking an education beyond high school.

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