Students at Arkansas’ three historically Black colleges will benefit from $115,000 in scholarship money that is available for the coming school year, money that school leaders said Friday will enable some young people to stick with their education.
“We know what’s going on today,” said Walter Kimbrough, president of Philander Smith College in Little Rock. “There are people struggling, asking ‘How am I going to afford college this year?”’
The money, approved last year by the Legislature, is being divided equally among Philander Smith and Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Sen. Tracy Steele, D-North Little Rock, said he will work to make the appropriation a regular one.
The scholarship fund was named for longtime activist Ellen Carpenter, who was in attendance for the news conference at her alma mater of Philander Smith. Three scholarships of $5,000, six of $2,500 and 85 of $1,000 are available. Students can apply starting Aug. 4 through the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.
To apply, the students will have to write an essay on the importance of historically Black colleges in Arkansas.
“That’s not too much to ask,” UAPB Chancellor Lawrence Davis said.
Davis said the state is facing a quandary in that many of its college graduates leave Arkansas to find jobs. Yet when some employers consider the state as a place to open a business, they pass over Arkansas because of the low proportion of college graduates. With the cost to students rising, the scholarship money will help, Davis said.
“We are making a dent in the challenge that we face,” Davis said.
Fitz Hill, president of Arkansas Baptist College, told the gathering that test scores are only one measure of success. He said the tenacity he sees in his students is a source of inspiration.
“There’s a lot of genius in perseverance,” Hill said.
Kimbrough said simply getting more high school students to go to college _ any college _ will not result in a greater proportion of graduates. He said the state college graduation rate is down slightly while enrollment has risen.
“You have to go to a college that is the best fit for you,” he said. “Now there is a financial incentive.”
Davis noted that 1,500 UAPB students have outstanding balances that must be covered so they can enroll for the fall, students he says he does not want to lose.
Carpenter told the assembly that part of it is up to the students to value their education and realize what finishing college can mean for their futures.
“Our children are not going to get anywhere in this day and age if they don’t have a good education,” the 92-year-old Carpenter told the crowd of several dozen school officials and students.
“We’ve got to do something for our race as a whole,” she said. “This is just a beginning.”
Carpenter arrived in a wheelchair but walked to the lectern with some assistance. She overcame any notion of frailty with her booming voice, which filled the atrium of the Harry R. Kendall Science and Health Mission Center.
Carpenter noted that she had six children when she started college and that she graduated in 1954, the same year one of her daughters graduated from high school. A number of her family members were in attendance Friday.
Brittney Coleman, a business administration student at Arkansas Baptist, said the scholarship money can help students avoid debt.
“I’ll be spreading the word,” Coleman said.
Students can apply for the scholarships through Aug. 31.
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