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Report: Arkansas Public College Graduation Rate is 38 Percent

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.— Less than 40 percent of students who enroll in Arkansas public universities obtain a degree within six years, according to a new state report.

The annual Report on Student Retention and Graduation was compiled by the state Department of Higher Education and given to the state Higher Education Coordinating Board on Friday.

It said 4,333 of the 11,527 students who enrolled in four-year public universities in 2004 had graduated from those schools by 2009. That’s a graduation rate of only 38 percent.

The rate has stayed fairly steady over the past five years, fluctuating between 37 percent and 38 percent, said Jim Purcell, director of the Higher Education Department.

He called the lack of improvement troublesome.

“We do have a ways to go,” Purcell said. “We definitely need to increase our productivity.”

The graduation rate is even lower at the state’s two-year colleges, with just 1,004 of 5,831 students who enrolled in 2007 graduating with an associate’s degree by 2009 – a rate of 17 percent, according to the report.

Randy Zook, president and chief executive officer of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, said the figures might discourage executives of out-of-state companies considering opening an operation in Arkansas.

“We have a selling job to do whenever we engage a prospect in considering Arkansas,” Zook said. “There’s no question it’s constraining our growth in several sectors.”

The four-year university graduation rate is based on the number of first-time, full-time students seeking a degree or certificate who enrolled in the fall of 2004 and graduated from the same institution by August 2009, said to Rick Jenkins, the department’s associate director of planning and accountability.

Arkansas has the lowest university graduation rate in a 16-state region, according to a December report by the Southern Regional Education Board, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that works to improve education across the South. The SREB said the average university graduation rate for the region is 53 percent.

Purcell said lack of academic preparation and money are barriers to many Arkansans enrolling in college.

Last year, 11,837 of the 21,689 students who enrolled in an Arkansas college or university for the first time – or 54.6 percent – needed to take remedial courses in math, English or reading, state figures show.

Purcell said the state’s new Smart Core curriculum should help by requiring high school students to take tougher classes to graduate. And he said scholarships funded by the Arkansas Lottery, which will be awarded for the first time this year, should reduce some of the money problems.

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