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Arkansas College Degrees Up, But Still Lag Behind National Trend

Arkansas College Degrees Up, But Still Lag Behind National Trend

Arkansas had the fastest growth in college graduates from 2000 to 2003, but it lagged so far behind to begin with that it is still well below the national average, according to new U.S. Census estimates.

Also, the percentage of Arkansans over age 25 who had a bachelor’s degree actually dropped from 2002 to 2003, from 19.7 percent to 19.0 percent.

Meanwhile, although growing more slowly overall, the national average has increased consistently from 25 percent in 2000 to 26.5 percent in 2003.

Still, the general growth trend in Arkansas has encouraged economists, who say it could lead to more high-paying jobs throughout the state.

If Arkansas were somehow able to catch up with the national average, it could mean a $21 million annual jump in the economy, said Robert Johnston of Little Rock, a consultant for the Southern Education Foundation in Atlanta.

“If we doubled our production (of college and university graduates) — which is possible but difficult — it would take us 10 years to reach that goal,” Johnston said.

The Census Bureau says Arkansas’ increase is statistically significant and encouraging.

Dr. Lu Hardin, president of the University of Central Arkansas, said the state’s colleges are doing a better job of advertising opportunities and connecting higher education with economic benefits than they did five years ago.

Also, enrollment at two-year colleges is up 24 percent over the same time period, and Jim Lynch, director of institutional research at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said that’s an indicator of better bachelor’s degree production.

“One of the milestones on the way to a B.A. or B.S. is an (associate’s degree),” Lynch said. “The two-year enrollments are just going out of sight.”

—  Associated Press

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