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Arkansas Plans to Award More 2-Year Degrees

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas education officials announced a plan Wednesday to award associate degrees to qualifying students who transferred from community colleges to universities but never got their diplomas.

Almost half of Arkansas students who transfer from two-year schools to four-year schools don’t complete enough credit hours for a bachelor’s degree. But many do amass enough credit for an associate degree.

Arkansas Higher Education Department Interim Director Shane Broadway said a $500,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation will enable the state to set up a system to evaluate student records from the state’s community colleges and performances after the students transferred to universities.

About 5,000 students transfer from community colleges to four-year schools each year in Arkansas. Some students start at community college to save money while taking lower-level classes before transferring to a university.

Organizers are going to start the program with 1,000 students who first enrolled in 2008. Once the system is in place, officials can work forward and backward with student records dating back into the 1990s.

The “Credit When It’s Due” program is part of a national effort that now includes about a dozen states. In Arkansas, it applies to the state’s 22 public community colleges and 11 state universities. Officials said it will take a couple of years to get the system up to speed.

Ed Franklin, president of the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges said the average community college student is 28 years old and many non-traditional students have trouble completing their degrees because of the demands of work and family.

Broadway noted that Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, called him to discuss a constituent who was three credit hours shy of getting a four-year degree.

“She had to take care of a family member,” Broadway said, and was unable to finish school. But she had enough credits to qualify for an associate degree.

“Some college is better than no college,” Broadway said.

The program is part of an initiative pushed by Gov. Mike Beebe to double the number of Arkansans with college degrees by 2025.

Arkansas is 49th in the nation in the proportion of residents with college degrees. Improving that statistic will mean that state residents can earn more money and that the state will have an easier time recruiting and retaining employers.

Neal Gibson, director of the Arkansas Research Center said the school at which the student accumulated the greatest number of credit hours will award the associate degree.

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