Rural Ark. Scholarship Program Yields Positive Results at Sixth Anniversary

By Diette Courrégé Casey — February 18, 2013 1 min read
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A scholarship program for some rural Arkansas high school students appears to be making a difference on students’ achievement as early as junior high.

Seventh and 8th grade students in El Dorado, Ark., had higher test scores in math and literacy than similar students elsewhere, according to a new study. Officials say that can be attributed to a privately-funded scholarship program that gives high school students the chance to earn a tuition-free college ride.

The El Dorado Promise Scholarship program started six years ago in the rural city with about 19,000 residents. The college scholarship is possible through a $50 million commitment from Murphy Oil Corporation.

“The Promise helped to foster a ‘college-going’ culture throughout the school district, motivating students to work harder and energizing our schools to provide the best possible education to our students,” said Sylvia Thompson, director of El Dorado Promise, in a news release. “This study shows that the impact of the Promise is measurable.”

We wrote about the El Dorado Promise last year and described some of its accomplishments, such as lowering the district’s dropout rate, increasing its overall student population, and boosting college enrollment rates.

Much of the research on the program until now has focused on high school students and graduation rates, but officials wanted to see whether the program has trickle-down effects to earlier grades.

The Office of Education Policy at the University of Arkansas followed a group of 3rd through 6th graders during 2005-06 until they were 8th graders. They matched El Dorado students with similar students in south Arkansas based on test scores and income. By 7th and 8th grade, El Dorado students scored better than their matched peers.

The study found more than 90 percent of the Promise-eligible high school class of 2012 enrolled in college that fall. Students must have spent their entire high school career in El Dorado to be eligible for the scholarship.

Ninety-one percent of all Promise college freshmen are completing at least one year of college. The first class of Promise students graduated in 2007, and 27 percent graduated from college in five years or less. The state’s average four-year college graduation rate is 19.7 percent.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.