LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday announced a new grant program that seeks to encourage students to enroll in “high demand” fields at community and technical colleges and begin their careers in the state.
The Arkansas Future Grant, or ArFuture, will be available to traditional, home-schooled and non-traditional students in Arkansas and will provide two years of tuition and fees at an Arkansas community or technical college for students who enroll in a field the state has identified as one with a high demand for graduates, such as computer science or welding.
“This is a fairly significant and dramatic change that will give Arkansas the opportunity to reach one of our major goals, which is to increase the attainment level for people of Arkansas,” Hutchinson said in a news conference at the state Capitol.
“Right now, only 43 percent of Arkansans have a higher degree or certificate post-high school. Our goal is to increase that to 60 percent by 2025,” he said.
Students who apply for an ArFuture grant will be required to apply also for federal Pell grants and the state lottery scholarship, Hutchinson said. The first-come, first-served ArFuture grants will cover the remainder of students’ financial needs, he said.
To increase students’ chances for success, they will be required to meet monthly with mentors, Hutchinson said. The colleges will be responsible for designing mentorship programs and will receive state funding for them.
“This is a critical link to success,” Hutchinson said. “Previously, we’ve had grant scholarship programs, but they have a very low level of achievement and success.”
The governor said students also will be required to complete eight hours of community service per semester and to work full-time in Arkansas for at least three years after graduating.
If a student does not fulfill the terms of an ArFuture grant, the grant will be converted to a loan and the student will be required to pay the money back, he said.
“The goal is to meet the growing economic needs of our state in high-need areas, and we want them to not be trained in Arkansas and go to Silicon Valley, but to stay here,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said the program will cost about $8 million a year but will require no new state spending. Instead, it will be funded with money that previously funded the state’s Workforce Improvement Grant, or WIG, and Higher Education Opportunities Grant, or Go!, programs, which will be cancelled.
The latter program has a 77 percent non-completion rate.