Hutchinson: Grant To Encourage Students To Enter High-Demand Work

Dec 8, 2016

File photo of Gov. Asa Hutchinson
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson says students hoping to learn a high-demand trade at a community or technical college can be offered full tuition and fee coverage from the state under a new proposal.

Hutchinson announced his intent to create the Arkansas Future, or ArFuture, grant at a press conference on various education-related proposals Thursday.

Hutchinson said high demand fields like computer science and welding would be covered by the ArFuture Grant. Each two-year education institution would also have to develop a mentoring program to counsel students receiving Arkansas Future grants.

Hutchinson says the new grant, if passed by lawmakers, would use approximately $8 million redirected from the state’s WIG (Workforce Improvement Grant) and GO! grant programs.

“We’re taking two programs that can be done better and putting them into this promise to Arkansas students and individuals that they can go full coverage to any Arkansas two-year college and have it paid,” he said.

The governor cited the high degree non-completion rate of 77 percent for students in the GO! program as one reason to divert its funding to ArFuture Grants, which have more strings attached.

“It is a gigantic step forward in terms of access to two-year college education for every, every student in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said while joined near the podium by Dr. Maria Markham, head of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

“I think that we have taken some major steps forward in aligning the efforts of higher education with economic and workforce development goals for our state,” Markham said.

Hutchinson said the grant would be available on a “first come, first serve” basis to traditional, non-traditional and home school student applicants, but not high school students taking concurrent classes. Recipients of the grant, in addition to completing their degree or certificate, would have to maintain a full-time job in the state for a minimum three years upon graduation. If the recipients aren’t able to meet those specifications, the grant would be converted to a loan the students would have to repay. The student recipients would also have to complete eight hours of community service per semester.

The grant would cover the remainder of tuition and fee expenses, after a student applies and receives Pell Grants or other scholarships. It would be available to students in the 2017-18 school year, if it is approved by lawmakers in the upcoming 2017 General Legislative Session, which begins in January.

The Governor announced the grant plan in addition to other education-related proposals for the 2017 session. They include three million dollars in additional funding to Pre-Kindergarten education through the state’s Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) program. He also voiced support for a new “productivity” model of funding higher education in Arkansas.

A press release from the Governor’s office also lists amending the Teacher Opportunity Program (TOP) as another of Hutchinson’s supported policies.

The TOP “currently provides scholarships for teachers that are seeking further degrees. Under this proposed change, teachers that are pursuing degrees and/or certifications in Computer Science or STEM fields, Literacy, Pre-Kindergarten or Special Education would be given priority for these scholarships over teachers pursuing degrees and/or certifications in other areas,” the press release reads.