LITTLE ROCK — State higher education officials on Wednesday announced a new initiative aimed at increasing the number of Arkansans with associate degrees.
Under the initiative, "Credit When It’s Due," if a college student transfers from a two-year school to a four-year school without having obtained an associate degree, and later earns the required college credits in relevant courses, the two-year school would be encouraged to award the student an associate degree.
"We’ve always had articulation agreements between particular institutions, but we’ve never had a statewide system to be able to identify those students who have reached the threshold of achieving an associate’s degree," Shane Broadway, interim director of the state Department of Higher Education, said in a news conference announcing the project.
"It’s going to help the students of Arkansas, give them degrees that they have earned, give them more marketable skills and also help us with economic development," he said.
Initially, only students who transferred to a four-year school in the fall of 2008 will be eligible, but officials said they plan to expand the project in future years.
The initial funding for the initiative, covering its first two years, is a $500,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation. Arkansas is one of 12 states chosen by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to receive grants to develop similar projects, under guidelines set by the university.
Ed Franklin, president of the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges, said the process also is known as "reverse transfer," or transferring credits from the student’s current school to a school the student previously attended.
"We know that about 47 percent of the students who transfer don’t end up with their baccalaureate degree. This program will give them that associate degree," he said.
Arkansas is 49th in the nation in the percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees and is at about the same level in associate degrees, Franklin said.
"Anything we can do to increase the number of degrees helps us in terms of attracting and keeping business," he said.
Neal Gibson and Greg Holland of the Arkansas Research Center in Conway said they recently authored a research article on the relative pay of people with and without college degrees.
"What you will discover is that if you have some college, your average salaries are much higher — almost twice as high — as those that only have a high school degree or less," said Gibson, the center’s director. "But what’s more important is, if you have an associate’s on top of that, it’s all of a sudden a $5,000-a-year boost in average salaries."
Gibson also said that 51 percent of students with associate degrees who declare an intent to earn a bachelor’s degree go on to earn the higher degree, but the percentage drops to 37 percent when the students do not have associate degrees.
Broadway said the initiative will encourage students to continue their college education and will tie into Gov. Mike Beebe’s goal, announced in 2011, of doubling the number of college graduates in Arkansas by 2025.