With the Department of Higher Education confronting a shortfall in its budget for granting post-graduate students money to pursue specialties not offered in-state, Governor Mike Beebe is requesting that lawmakers use rainy-day funds to cover the program for one more year.
The department normally grants tuition money for Arkansas students who pursue degrees in fields like veterinary medicine, optometry and dentistry. The financial needs of these and similar grant programs have lately exceeded the 28 million dollars allocated by lawmakers.
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample says the Governor will seek approval for a funding increase of over one million dollars for the program.
"The catch is, this is only for one year, so the legislature in future years will approve some more funds or will have more revenue available to where these students can continue receiving these grants beyond just their first year because these are generally four-year degree programs in their post-graduate work," says DeCample.
The state offers the grant money with the hopes that students will return to Arkansas to pursue their careers in a given field.
The Arkansas Legislative Council Peer Review Committee, which meets in July, will decide whether to provide the additional funding. Officials at the Department of Higher Education have said a shortfall for the program has existed for a few years, but they have typically used year-end reserves to fill the funding gap.
When the department revealed it can’t meet the financial needs of the program, it left some applicants to wonder if they could still pay out-of-state tuition to get their degrees. DeCample says he’s confident the legislature will ensure the fiscal health of program in future years.
"I think it comes down to how much they hear from their constituents, be it these students of their families, as to the importance of this program. I think a lot of those families did not have a full understanding of the status of that [grant] fund, but they've been making a lot more noise recently, both to [the Governor's office] and to their legislators, which is a good thing."
The 1.1 million dollar funding increase would cover the program for only one year. The Legislative Council will consider the increase after it meets July 11th.