The state of Arkansas has a long way to go in terms of educational attainment. According to a study from the Lumina Foundation, only 28.8 percent of Arkansas residents ages 25-64 held a two-year or four-year college degree in 2013. Compare that to the national average of 40 percent and you'll see that degree attainment in Arkansas has room for improvement.
But here's where things get interesting: A full 23.3 percent of adults in the state had some college credit under their belt, but no degree. Meanwhile, 7.04 percent held an associate degree, 14.46 had their bachelor's, and 7.29 percent held a graduate or professional degree. In other words, the number of adults in Arkansas who have attended some college but stopped short of graduating is almost equal to those who hold a formal degree. So although educational attainment in the state is not currently high, interest in higher education certainly is.
Fortunately, there are plenty of schools offering high quality education in the area, including some with distance learning options. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Arkansas is home to approximately 89 colleges, universities, trade schools, and community colleges. Out of those schools, 26 offer bachelor's degrees and 44 offer associate degrees.
Why Should I Earn a Degree in Arkansas?
With so many schools offering on-campus and online degrees in Arkansas, the state provides an excellent home base for anyone who wants to further their education. However, Arkansas has more to offer beyond educational attainment, as many careers in the state feature high pay and excellent job prospects. As of 2014, the state of Arkansas was home to 1,158,790 workers, with a mean annual wage of $37,940. According to the May 2016 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following industries employ a healthy population of college-educated workers in the state:
Number of Workers
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||174,970||$31,770|
|Sales and Related Occupations||126,730||$33,010|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||105,310||$20,490|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||104,060||$32,330|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||77,150||$66,400|
|Education, Training, and Library Occupations||74,080||$44,560|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||52,300||$40,610|
|Business and Financial Operations Occupations||47,790||$61,740|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||46,470||$36,450|
|Healthcare Support Occupations||35,730||$25,490|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations||35,200||$23,270|
|Personal Care and Service Occupations||34,500||$21,750|
Although Arkansas is mostly rural, it holds its share of bustling metropolitan areas. The biggest metro areas in the state include the Little Rock metropolitan area, the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metropolitan area, and the Fort Smith metropolitan area. Meanwhile, the fourth largest metropolitan area, known as Texarkana, falls partly within the state of Texas.
Arkansas is home to dozens of top quality colleges and universities, the largest being the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and the Arkansas State University system, which includes several campuses statewide. Although traditional education is fully represented, there are plenty of opportunities for online education in Arkansas as well. Many colleges and universities in the state offer online or hybrid degree programs, including the University of Arkansas, Arkansas Tech University, Arkansas State University, and the University of Central Arkansas.
Upon graduation, Arkansas students will find plenty of industries waiting to welcome them with open arms. According to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the largest industries in the state include advanced food manufacturing and packaging, aerospace, biosciences, data centers, distribution and logistics, paper and tinder, and smart grid technologies.
One factor that continues to attract individuals to Arkansas is the low cost of owning a business and living in the state. As the Arkansas Economic Development Commission reports, the state has been ranked as having the second lowest cost to do business in the U.S. Meanwhile, Arkansas residents enjoy an incredibly low cost of living compared to other states and metro areas. And the U.S. Census Bureau corroborates that idea. According to their most recent stats, the median housing value in Arkansas was only $107,300 in 2013.
Although Arkansas has a lot to offer in terms of educational attainment and job prospects, that's certainly not all. Beyond the veil of higher education and industry, the state has some sights, sounds, and history that might surprise you. Here are some interesting facts about Arkansas that I bet you didn't know:
- Love diamonds? You'll feel right at home in Arkansas. Diamonds were first discovered in the state in 1906, and it's still home to the country's only active diamond mine.
- Nature lovers rejoice in the fact that half of Arkansas is covered with forestland. The Ozark Natural Forest alone covers over one million acres.
- In the beautiful Hot Springs Mountain region, 47 separate hot springs flow. Their average temperature is 143 degrees fahrenheit.
- Arkansas is home to 600,000 acres of lakes and 9,740 miles of streams.
- Famous Arkansas natives include Johnny Cash, Mike Huckabee, William Jefferson Clinton, Douglas MacArthur, and Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart.
What Makes Arkansas Ideal for Online Education?
In a state with so much forestland and so many rural areas, online education is actually ideal. With many of the state's residents living far away from big universities, the fact that those students can now earn a degree remotely has been a boon to higher education over all.
""For students, many of whom are very community-oriented and doing lots of education and activism in their own local communities, they can remain in place while they study,"" says Mary Pat Champeau, Director of Education at the Institute for Humane Education and faculty member at Valparaiso University.
""This allows them to directly apply and integrate new learning into what they are already doing at work and in their lives,"" she explains, adding that online education can also be beneficial for students who are introverted, or those who only want to participate on a level that is meaningful to them.
Although higher education across Arkansas is still gaining steam, several counties in the state feature higher educational attainment than others:
- Pulaski: 39.53 percent
- Benton: 36.10 percent
- Washington: 35.04 percent
- Craighead: 32.22 percent
- Saline: 32.48 percent
This goes to show that progress is being made in terms of degree attainment, at least in certain parts of the state. However, the prevalence of online education should make it easier for more Arkansas residents to earn a college degree, or finish a degree they already started. Many of the state's largest schools now offer online or hybrid degree programs, including the University of Arkansas, Arkansas Tech University, Arkansas State University, and the University of Central Arkansas.
These schools offer a balanced approach to traditional and online learning, allowing them to reach students who want an on-campus experience as well as those who prefer to earn their degrees remotely. However, the idea of distance learning in Arkansas is certainly gaining steam in its own right.
""We are living in a highly connected age and students who learn how to maximize their learning opportunities via this ubiquitous connectivity are ahead of the game,"" notes Champeau. She adds that students who have ""a love of learning, independence, and an appreciation for the amazing potential of technology in helping us evolve through education"" will be most likely to succeed in the online world.
Top 10 Degrees in Arkansas
A number of industries in Arkansas are expected to experience excellent job growth during the coming decade. Using employment and wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we created this list of the most promising college degrees in the state through 2022:
Diagnostic Medical Sonography/Sonography
Earning a degree in diagnostic medical sonography is the fastest way to begin a career in this highly specialized field. And, along with most other careers in health care, this particular field is booming. According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor, employment opportunities for diagnostic sonographers are expected to increase 41 percent in Arkansas from 2012 to 2022. High wages never hurt either. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, diagnostic medical sonographers in Arkansas earned a mean annual wage of $54,740 in 2014.
Food Science/Animal Science
As our food supply becomes more complicated, food science majors will be needed to analyze supply and formulate strategies to improve safety. Earning a degree in this field can help you begin a career as a food scientist or technologist. Because of the demand, U.S. Department of Labor figures show that employment of these professionals could increase by as much as 39 percent in Arkansas from 2012 to 2022. Meanwhile, high wages also add to its popularity. As of 2014, food scientists and technologists in Arkansas earned a mean annual wage of $67,150.
Occupational Therapy Assisting
If you're interested in a career in occupational therapy, but don't want to earn an advanced degree, you may want to consider becoming an occupational therapy assistant. To get started, you simply need to earn an in-demand degree in occupational therapy assisting from an accredited school. According to U.S. Department of Labor figures, employment of these workers is expected to increase 33 percent in Arkansas during the decade leading up to 2022. Meanwhile, mean annual wages in the state were reported at $62,190.
As cancer patients continue to seek out radiation treatment, demand for individuals with a degree in radiation therapy is only expected to increase. Specifically, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of radiation therapists could increase by as much as 32 percent from 2012 to 2022. High wages for this degree type also contribute to its popularity. As of 2014, radiation therapists in Arkansas earned a mean annual wage of $76,580.
Tourism, hospitality, and event planning are booming industries in Arkansas, which is why more and more students are earning a degree in hospitality management. Doing so can prepare you for a career as a meeting, convention, and event planner -- a job which is expected to see a 31 percent rise in employment from 2012 to 2022. Meanwhile, meeting, convention, and event planners earned a mean annual wage of $36,520 in 2014.
Earning a degree in a foreign language can lead to a number of careers that operate in an international setting. However, it can also lead to a career as an interpreter or translator -- a job which is expected to see 29 percent growth in Arkansas from 2012 to 2022. According to the BLS, interpreters and translators in Arkansas earned a mean annual wage of $29,670 in 2014. Want to learn more about earning a degree in a foreign language?
With the use of all forms of technology on the rise, it's no wonder that individuals with degrees in information technology are in demand. This major can lead to a number of careers, including information security analyst. According to the BLS, employment opportunities for information security analysts in Arkansas are expected to increase 28 percent from 2012 to 2022. High wages also add to the popularity of this degree. As the BLS notes, information security analysts earned a mean annual wage of $59,680 in 2014.
Physical Therapy Assisting
Another booming career in health care is physical therapy assisting. According to the statistics, employment in this career could increase by as much as 27 percent in Arkansas from 2012 to 2022. And for a job that only requires an associate degree, wages are high as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapy assistants in Arkansas earned a mean annual wage of $50,400 in 2014.
A degree in dental hygiene can help you get started in the high demand field of dentistry. And thanks to an increase in demand for dental care, employment opportunities for dental hygienists could increase by as much as 27 percent in Arkansas from 2012 to 2022. And high wages make this career a popular option for those who want quick entry into the workforce. As the BLS notes, dental hygienists in Arkansas earned a mean annual wage of $62,060 in 2014.
A degree in education can lead to a career in the rewarding world of teaching. And due to a population boom in the state, several teaching careers could see exceptional growth in Arkansas over the coming decade. Specifically, U.S. Department of Labor figures show that employment of vocational education teachers could increase by as much as 28 percent from 2012 to 2022. Meanwhile, jobs for preschool special education teachers are projected to increase by 27 percent.
Top Cities for Arkansas College Students
As the capital of Arkansas and the state's most populous city, Little Rock is known as a cultural, economic, and transportation center. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 197,357 residents called the city home in 2013, and 37.7 percent of the population ages 25-64 held at least a bachelor's degree.
Even as the state's largest urban area, Little Rock still offers affordable housing for families and college students. As the U.S. Census Bureau notes, the median housing value in Little Rock was only $150,500 in 2013. Some of the largest employers in the Little Rock area include Axciom, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and Heifer International. In addition to bustling industries, Little Rock is also home to seventeen colleges, universities, and trade schools, including these prominent schools:
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock is a public research university that offers more than 100 degree programs in high demand fields such as nursing, engineering, and education. Founded in 1927, the school opened its doors to expand higher education to adults in Little Rock and has grown to serve over 12,000 students each year. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year came out to $7,432, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Among its many career-oriented degree programs, the schools is known for these:
- Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing Completion (RN to BSN)
- Online Bachelor of Science in Health Education and Promotion
- Online Bachelor of Business Administration in Management
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
As the only academic health sciences university in Arkansas, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences aims to prepare students for a number of careers in the medical and health professions. The school includes five separate colleges and a graduate school, in addition to eight regional centers and seven institutes of excellence. Undergraduate tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year came out to $8,691, and the school is known for these popular programs:
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing
- Master of Public Health
- Master of Science in Genetic Counseling
Philander Smith College
Philander Smith College is a private, four-year liberal arts college aimed at educating students who are advocates for social justice. Located near downtown Little Rock, Philander Smith draws on urban neighborhoods and local diversity to prepare students with a multicultural worldview. Enrollment included 556 students as of 2013, and tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year averaged out to $12,564. As a school focused on diversity and open-minded education, their most popular degree programs include:
- Bachelor of Arts in Political Science
- Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (Minor in Black Family)
- Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Religion
With its location along the Oklahoma border, Fort Smith is part of the Fort Smith Arkansas-Oklahoma metropolitan statistical area. As of 2013, the city had approximately 87,650 residents, and 20.3 percent of adults held a bachelor's degree or higher. A trendy, urban vibe and low cost of living have helped make the Fort Smith area a popular place for students and young families. Low housing costs have helped too; according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median housing value in this area was only $112,700 in 2013.
The Fort Smith area is home to plenty of large employers including Sparks Health System, Baldor Electric Company, and OK Foods. In addition to industry, Fort Smith also offers four institutions of higher education three of which are beauty or barber colleges. The region's most prominent school is:
University of Arkansas - Fort Smith
The University of Arkansas enrolls approximately 7,170 students in its associate and bachelor's degree programs each year. Currently, they offer a wide range of options in both traditional on-campus education and online learning. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year came out to $4,727 for in-state students, and the following degree programs are some of the school's most popular:
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing
- Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education
- Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene
Although Fayetteville, Arkansas is fairly rural, it is still the third largest city in the state and the county seat of Washington County. Deep within the Ozarks, Fayetteville has a strong sense of self deeply rooted in its arts and music scene, love of barbecue, and history. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Fayetteville was approximately 78,960 in 2013. Meanwhile, the presence of the state's most prominent university keeps educational attainment high. As of 2013, 44.8 percent of Fayetteville's adult population held at least a bachelor's degree. The local universities and affluent population keep housing prices slightly higher than state average, however. From 2009 to 2013, the median housing value in the area was $175,600. Five institutions of higher education can be found in Fayetteville, although three are beauty and barber colleges. The two remaining colleges and universities include the following:
University of Arkansas
Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville is the main campus and flagship location of the University of Arkansas system. Across the school's ten separate colleges, the University of Arkansas currently offers 210 academic programs, many of which can be earned completely or partially online. Currently enrollment includes more than 25,000 students, and tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year averaged out to $8,210 for in-state students. The University of Arkansas is known for these popular degree programs:
- Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN)
- Online Executive Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- Online Master of Education in Educational Leadership
Blue Cliff College - Fayetteville
Blue Cliff College in Fayetteville is a satellite campus of Blue Cliff College in Louisiana. As of 2013, the school had an enrollment of approximately 181 students. Meanwhile, tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year came out to an average of $15,536. The school offers students indoor and outdoor study breaks, small class sizes, and an on-campus library. Currently, the Fayetteville campus only offers one degree program:
- Massage Therapy Diploma Program
Scholarships and Financial Aid
It's easy to become overwhelmed by your college options and the costs associated with them, but chances are good that you qualify for some type of financial aid. To find out, the first thing every student should do is fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA form. This can help state and federal agencies determine how much aid you might qualify for. Types of federal aid can include Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants, or Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants. Additionally, plenty of state-based options are available to students in Arkansas. Here is a quick list of scholarship and grant opportunities you might want to look into:
- Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarships
- Governor's Distinguished Scholarships
- Higher Education Opportunities Grant (Go! Grant)
- Arkansas Work Enforcement Grant (WIG)
- State Teacher Education Programs (STEP)
- Arkansas Teacher Opportunity Program (TOP)
These are just some of the financial aid options available to students who pursue on-campus or online degrees in Arkansas. In addition to these, you should also check with your specific school and program to see if any additional aid may be available.
A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, Lumina Foundation, Arkansas, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/#arkansas
College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, Arkansas, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=AR&l=92
Cost of Living Index, Arkansas, http://www.arkansasedc.com/sites/default/files/content/cost_of_living_index_annual_averages.pdf
Industries, Arkansas Economic Development Commission, http://www.arkansasedc.com/industries
May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Arkansas, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ar.htm
Scholarships and Programs, Arkansas Department of Higher Education, http://scholarships.adhe.edu/scholarships-and-programs/high-school/
State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Arkansas, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/05000.html
State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Fayetteville http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/05/0523290.html
State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Fort Smith, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/05/0524550.html
State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Little Rock, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/05/0541000.html