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Arkansas program is doubling college completion rates

Today, a new study titled College Count$ demonstrates that low-income students who have participated in the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative (CPI) earn associate degrees or technical certificates at more than double the rate of the general community college population in Arkansas.

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (College Count$) – Today, a new study titled College Count$ demonstrates that low-income students who have participated in the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative (CPI) earn associate degrees or technical certificates at more than double the rate of the general community college population in Arkansas. The findings are especially significant considering that students who participate in CPI must qualify for public assistance, live at 250 percent or less of the poverty level and support a family as a custodial parent.

Today’s findings are the first phase of research from College Count$, a joint research project established in April of 2015 by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation and Annie E. Casey Foundation to demonstrate the potential for CPI to break the cycle of poverty and provide a return on investment for participants, their families and the state. The College Count$ study was conducted by Metis Associates, a nationally recognized research firm. Research methods used in the study all comply with the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse guidelines for evidence-based programs.

Since its inception in 2006, CPI has worked with more than 30,000 students at 25 community college and university technical centers across the state. Fifty-two percent of students who participated in the CPI program from 2006 to 2013 have completed at least one associate degrees or technical certificate, compared to only 24 percent of general non-CPI community college students from across Arkansas enrolled in those same academic years, according to statistics from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE).

Additionally, the College Count$ results show that CPI students outperform Community College students nationally. According to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 39 percent of students nationwide enrolled at a two-year public college in 2008 completed an associate degree or certificate by 2014. In comparison, 62 percent of CPI students who enrolled at an Arkansas community college in 2008 completed at least one degree or certificate by 2013 – a rate more than 50 percent higher than the national average for the community college student body.

CPI’s unique approach provides students with extensive personalized support throughout their college experience – such as tutoring, mentoring, childcare assistance or gas cards – to address the specific barriers that could otherwise stand in the way of graduation. Students receive training for high demand jobs in their communities, which greatly increases their chances of employment. To maintain eligibility for CPI services, students must continue enrollment in job training activities and communicate regularly with CPI staff.

In addition to impressive academic achievements, CPI participants also experienced a boost in wages. According to Unemployment Insurance Wage data across all industries, the class of 2009 earned on average $2,562 more per year, the class of 2010 $2,700, and the class 2011 $3,112 more in wages in the first twelve months after exiting college than their matched comparison group from the TANF population who did not participate in CPI.

“The Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative is a nonpartisan program that has generated real returns for our state’s economy. It trains Arkansans for in-demand jobs, and successfully moves individuals from welfare to work. Everyone wins with this highly effective program,” said Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.

“We have a tremendous success story in Arkansas: the Career Pathways Initiative has stimulated job and wage growth while helping some of the most disadvantaged students,” said Arkansas State Senator Keith Ingram. “If, as a state, we are serious about improving career prospects for low income families, we need more programs with proven results like the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative. This is the kind of research that legislators rely on, to prove what’s working."

"Increasing prosperity, educational attainment and economic mobility for our most vulnerable fellow citizens is at the heart of the mission of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation,” said Sherece Y. West-Scantlebury, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. “As a nation and as a people we must find ways to bridge the growing income gaps that have left so many of our people behind. These findings leave little doubt that the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative has helped tens of thousands of very low-income parents be successful in college and in finding good employment afterwards. This program is transforming lives."

"I don't think I could have finished my degree without the financial and emotional support of the Career Pathways program,” said Amy Camero, a CPI participant and graduate of North Arkansas College. “It wasn't easy to be a wife, mom, and work a full-time job while also going to school. But my advisor always encouraged me to keep going. Now I have my bachelor's degree and my dream job, plus my husband and I just bought our first home."

CPI, administered by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE) and the state’s 22 community colleges and three university technical centers, has provided education and training to more than 30,000 low-income Arkansans since 2006, helping them acquire degrees and/or certificates to obtain and hold jobs in selected high-demand and high-wage industries. Funds for the program comes from the federal Temporary Assistance for Need Families (TANF) appropriations administered through the state Department of Workforce Services.

College Count$ is currently seeking funding for the next phase of research to measure the return on investment (ROI) to the state generated as a result of expanded employment, increased tax revenues and a decline in the need for public assistance. Researchers also want to explore whether success in educational attainment contributes to improved economic mobility, and to further examine which case management or financial supports provided to CPI participants seem to be correlated to the greater educational success, particularly in relation to success in remedial courses at the community college. The findings may have significant impact on how community colleges can better improve completion rates and ensure academic success for of all students.

(Source: College Count$)