The following is a transcript of Gov. Asa Hutchinson's radio column for the weekend of Aug. 19, 2016:
As another school year begins, many recent high school graduates are gearing up for their first semester of college. It’s an exciting time for our students as they explore their academic passions and lay the foundations for a promising career path.
Arkansas’s colleges and universities work hard for success with the students as they work toward their degrees. Currently, the funding of our higher education institutions is based upon enrollment numbers, but doesn’t take into account the student success rate of these institutions.
When I took office, I set a goal to increase post-high school degree and certificate completion from 40 percent to 60 percent by the year 2025. That’s a tall order. But with the help of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and the support of our state colleges and universities, we’ve created a new higher education funding formula with a focus on degree completion. That means when more students succeed, colleges and universities are rewarded in their funding.
The new funding formula will put a greater emphasis on student success and increase the productivity, efficiency and accountability of Arkansas’s colleges and universities – regardless of the school’s size or number of degree programs. It will incentivize school leaders to focus on activities that encourage and empower our students to graduate on time.
This is a big step forward for our schools and – most importantly – for our students. And I’m not the only one excited to see these changes. Higher education professionals from all across the state have provided ideas and solutions to help make this happen. By working together with the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, we’ve developed a funding formula that prioritizes outcomes, rather than just enrollment numbers.
So why is degree completion so important? Because students who complete their degrees are better equipped to compete in today’s workforce. On average, the first year earnings for Arkansans with a high school degree are around $12,000 annually. But with a college degree, our graduates typically start at nearly $30,000, which more than doubles their annual income right out of school.
In Arkansas – where the unemployment rate is at an all-time low and we have added more than 54,000 jobs since January 2015 – jobs are both available and attainable for students.
Those who pursue higher education in Arkansas deserve every opportunity to excel. Under this new funding formula, there will be greater focus on ensuring that students are able to walk across the stage on-time, and with a diploma in hand – all the while providing the college or university with incentive to be more efficient with how they use their budget.
Together, with the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and our state’s outstanding colleges and universities, we’re working to make Arkansas a national leader for student success. And with the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s recent vote to pursue the new funding formula, we are now ready to present it to the Arkansas General Assembly. This would make Arkansas the fifth state in the nation to base higher education funding on student outcomes – the possibilities for Arkansas’s students are endless.