Online Degrees in Arkansas
In an effort to invigorate the state economy and boost personal income, Arkansas is making higher education a top priority. To improve state rankings in college graduation, income and skilled jobs, Arkansas established both a Task Force on Higher Education Remediation, Retention and Graduation and the Strategic Plan for Economic Development. By partnering with higher education institutions and major employers, Governor Mike Beebe aims to equip workers for a 21st-century knowledge-based economy.
Arkansas' public and private sectors are banding together to raise levels of educational attainment and attract skilled jobs to the state. Recent data shows that test scores and graduation rates are improving in the state, and jobs that come with increased education are on the rise.
Historically, Arkansas struggled with an unskilled workforce, low personal income and a lack of skilled jobs. Arkansas' population ranks 46th in the nation in the percentage of adults age 25 to 64 with an associate degree, and 49th in the percentage with a bachelor's degree or higher, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2009 American Community Survey. Per capita income, which reflects education levels, remains below the national average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012) notes that the 2011 annual mean wage in Arkansas was $36,340, which is lower than the U.S. annual mean wage. State efforts to improve education levels are designed to attract new businesses that bring opportunity and higher-paying jobs to the state.
Arkansas' higher education policy aims to correct course through targeted investment in post-secondary education and intervention at the secondary school level. An influential 2011 report by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) and the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE) listed the following goals for higher education:
- Improving college enrollment and completion rates. The aim is to double the number of degrees and certificates awarded by 2025.
- Aligning K-12 and higher education standards to ensure that high school graduates are prepared for college.
- Encouraging working adults and non-traditional students to return to college for job skills development.
- Boosting the proportion of students pursuing career-relevant degrees. Currently, 54 percent of associate degrees are in "general fields that do not lead to jobs," according to the NCHEMS report.
- Increasing college accessibility for both high school graduates and returning students, through financial aid and online degree programs. The YOUniversal Financial Aid program has streamlined the state financial aid process, bringing funds to a broader student community.
Increased funding and college preparation programs have built a lifeline of support for high school and college students, laying the foundation for improvement in educational outcomes.
There are promising signs that Arkansas' higher education policy commitments are bearing fruit, reports Governor Beebe. The state is continuously adding more nonfarm payroll jobs, according to a news release by the Department of Workforce Services. According to the governor's office, the success of the state rests heavily on the educational attainment of the state's citizens. More resources will go toward improving attainment levels.
More Arkansans than ever are entering college and completing career development programs, according to the NCHEMS report. Graduation rates in the state were higher than the Southern Regional Education Board average for the four major ethnic groups -- Asian, White, Hispanic, and Black -- especially for Hispanic students.
Online degrees in Arkansas play a pivotal role in expanding access to college. The Arkansas Department of Education is targeting distance education as a means of bringing education and career training to rural populations and working adults.
Rural students. Arkansas has one of the largest rural populations in the U.S. With access to college being a challenge, education levels are low in rural communities. According to 2010 U.S. Census figures, twelve percent of the rural population has a college degree, half the rate of the U.S. population as a whole.
Working adults. Arkansas' low educational attainment levels also points to another under-served group: unskilled working adults. As the NCHEMS report states: "Arkansas must get more adults to complete a postsecondary education… Arkansas cannot reach competitive levels of educational attainment only by educating recent high school graduates."
Arkansas online degrees bring the college classroom to these under-served communities. The Arkansas Delta Training and Education Consortium, a partnership of five community colleges, is investing $23 million in workforce development outreach. A significant portion of this investment will go to building technology centers and developing online programs in high-demand career and technical fields. At the K-12 level, the Arkansas Department of Education Distance Learning Center is extending online secondary education programs to rural students. For-profit colleges and vocational schools are doing their part by offering a full range of online degrees in Arkansas.
Arkansas is in the midst of a transition from an agricultural and manufacturing economy to a more diverse knowledge-based economy. Government, health care and business services are growth industries in Arkansas. As of 2012, the state was home to 4 Fortune 500 companies, including WalMart, Tyson Foods, and Dillard department stores.
The 2011 Arkansas Labor Market and Economic Report identifies the following high-growth industries in the state:
- Data Processing, Hosting and Related Services
- Oil and Gas Extraction
- Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction
- Textile Product Mills
- Wholesale Electronic Markets and Agents and Brokers
These numbers reflect the state's evolution from a goods-based to a knowledge-based economy. State initiatives such as the Strategic Plan for Economic Development and Accelerate Arkansas are working to expand the state's skilled, high-wage career opportunities. By strengthening partnerships among state agencies, education institutions and businesses, Arkansas aims to "transition to an economy supported by 21st-century knowledge-based jobs." The state is working to attract R&D-based businesses to the region through business-friendly tax policies, research funding and workforce development programs.
Arkansas is a poised to become a rising star in the southern region. With the public and private sector working together, the state has the resources to build a skilled workforce and attract jobs to the region. An accessible, high-quality college education is the first step in Arkansas' quest for a brighter future. Students pursuing Arkansas online degrees can be first in line to benefit from emerging opportunities in the state.
A Comprehensive Analysis of Higher Education Policy, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, 2011
Arkansas, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012
Arkansas Featured Facts, Southern Regional Education Board, 2011
Arkansas Labor Market and Economic Report: State and Workforce Investment Areas, 2011
Arkansas News Release, Department of Workforce Services, 2012
Fortune 500 Companies, CNN Money
Strategic Plan for Economic Development, Governor's Office
Online Degree Programs in ArkansasThis list also contains online schools that accept students from Arkansas.
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