A highly-respected education consultant said Thursday that Arkansas has a program that could be a national model to help low-income workers and people in poverty reach “economic and educational attainment.”
On Thursday (March 31), former Arkansas House Speaker Bill Stovall, executive director of Arkansas Community Colleges, Sherece West-Scantlebury, president and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, and Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE) Director Brett Powell, unveiled the results of College Counts$ study to a host of state workforce, education and government officials, including several current and former state lawmakers.
The 2015 research findings – funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford and Annie E. Casey foundations – take a broad look at social impacts and economic returns from the ADHE’s Career Pathways Initiative (CPI). The 10-year old program, began during the Huckabee administration, provides education and trading to thousands of Arkansans who receive assistance from the federal Temporary Assistance to Need Families (TANF), commonly referred by some was welfare.
At the event, College Counts$ Project Manager Katherine Boswell of Salt Lake City, Utah, was effusive in her praise of the CPI program, calling it a one-of-a-kind program that could be duplicated in other programs in Arkansas and across the U.S. to aid low-income.
According to state higher education officials, the CPI program is administered at the state’s 22 two-year colleges and three technical centers, providing 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.
In order to qualify for participation in CPI, participants must be a custodial parent, have qualified as TANF eligible, and be at 250% or less of the poverty level. Many are TEA (Transitional Employment Assistance) clients, who are low-income enough that they qualify for cash assistance, state officials said. The average CPI participant is 31 years of age, and overwhelmingly female (89%) and a single parent. Data on ethnicity and race indicate that nearly 65% of CPI students are Caucasian, and 30% are African American, with the remaining 5% of participants being Hispanic or from other minority groups.
“The bottom line is that you have a national model and these findings are extraordinary,” Boswell told the roomful of governmental officials, which included State Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Randy Zook, Rep. Joe Jett, D-Success, and Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, and other current and former state lawmakers. “These are the most exciting results I have ever seen in my 30 years of (research). You are doing something right and I hope you will continue investing in in. This is doing something great for your state.”
During her presentation at the Arkansas State University System offices, across the street from the State Capitol, Boswell said the first phase of her ground-breaking research found that 52% of the nearly 30,000 students who participated in the Arkansas education and workforce initiative from 2006 to 2013 have completed at least one higher education academic certificate or degree, compared to 24% of the non-CPI community college students across the state who were enrolled in the same academic years.
Among other findings, Boswell’s research also unveiled the following points:
• Despite entering college with significant educational and economic disadvantages, when compared to a matched population of their community college peers, six times as many CPI participants who enrolled in 2011 had earned associate degrees than their AR community college peers. Three times as many had earned a certificate of proficiency or other technical certificate than the comparison community college population.
• According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 39% of all students nationwide who enrolled at a two-year public college in 2008 have completed an associate degree or certificate by 2014. By comparison, 62% of CPI students who enrolled at an Arkansas community college in 2008 have completed at least one degree or certificate by 2013.
• The CPI graduates who enrolled in 2009 earned $2,600 more in their first year than their matched TANF counterparts from the same region and field of employment, despite having earnings similar income prior to entry in the program. In 2011, in the 12 months after leaving college, CPI participants earned $3,100 more per year than a matched pool of TANF participants from their same locality.
• Arkansas Temporary Employment Assistance (TEA) clients who receive cash stipends and were enrolled in CPI earned $731 more than their TANF counterparts in the first year after completing. The TEA program is another federal funded program available to TANF recipients with or expecting children. It furnishes parents with work training and other supportive services they need in order to attain permanent self-sufficiency.
After her presentation, Boswell said the Common Count$ results have been shared with the national Department of Education officials, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and national media. There are also plans in the works to hold a “state policy summit” in Little Rock, said the national education consultant, where education and workforce policy experts will examine the CDI model with the hopes to expand across the U.S.
“Ultimately, we want to go to Congress and say this is a program that works,” she said.
To do that, West-Scantlebury said College Count$ is 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. The New York-based Metis Associates and the Arkansas Research Center are conducting this multi-phased study by analyzing approximately 30,000 CPI participant records from the past 10 years.
Besides setting aside funding from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation for the Arkansas program, West-Scantlebury was also instrumental in gaining support from the Annie E. Casey and Ford foundations to fund the first phase of the research project.
“We will continue our fundraising, and even with the legislators who are here – if you have a couple of dollars you can loan somebody and help up out and keep this moving, we will be approaching you all for any discretionary dollars to continue to dig deeper into several of these questions that Katherine (Boswell) has talked about,” West-Scantlebury said to a roomful of laughter as she reached out to several lawmakers.
Former Arkansas House Speaker Bill Stovall also applauded the CPI program, saying he has seen how it transforms the lives of low-income community college students across the state. “They are no longer tax consumers, they are tax producers,” he said. “This is the kind of thing we’ve spent 51 years trying to get to.”