LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday signed a bill to create a grant program aimed at increasing degree and certificate attainment in high-demand fields at community and technical colleges and encouraging the graduates to work in Arkansas.


Hutchinson signed House Bill 1426, now Act 316, by Rep. Jana Della Rogers, R-Rogers, which creates the Arkansas Future Grant, or ArFuture, program. The legislation includes an emergency clause that makes it take effect immediately.


The bill, part of Hutchinson’s legislative package, allows a student to receive up to two years of tuition and fees at a state community or technical college if the student enrolls in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics field or another high-demand field, such as computer science or welding.


A grant recipient will be required to participate in a mentor program and a community service program. After graduation, the recipient must work full-time in Arkansas for a minimum of three years.


If a student does not complete his or her commitment, the grant will convert to a loan that must be repaid to the state.


The first grants under the program will be available for the 2017-2018 school year.


No new revenue is being dedicated to the program. To offset its estimated $8 million annual cost, the state is canceling the Workforce Improvement Grant, or WIG, and Higher Education Opportunities Grant, or Go!, programs.


Hutchinson signed the bill in a ceremony at the state Capitol with legislators and students from Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock looking on.


“This is an initiative that I believe is going to have incredible, lasting effect on education in Arkansas and attainment levels,” he said. “It’s unique that you can take existing revenues and shape it into a package that’s going to be able to give students confidence. They wonder about, ‘Can we afford a college education?’ They will have confidence that ‘Yes, we can do it,’ because this is a commitment.”