College students in Arkansas receive $300,000 boost

by Talk Business & Politics staff (staff2@talkbusiness.net) 205 views 

Strong Start to Finish (SSTF), a national initiative aimed at increasing the number and proportion of low-income students, students of color and returning adults who succeed in college math and English, has added a chapter from Arkansas to its network of systems.

The Kresge Foundation awarded the Arkansas Department of Higher Education in partnership with Arkansas Community Colleges (ACC) a $150,000 grant to help students at 32 Arkansas institutions successfully start — and finish — college. The grant will provide funding to 22 community colleges and 10 public universities, according to an SSTF news release.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson allocated a matching $150,000 toward the effort. The goal is to help more students successfully pass math and English in their first year, which has been identified to increase their likelihood to graduate.

“There is a growing trend in higher education to better support all students, regardless of their academic preparation, income level, age or race,” said SSTF Director Christopher Mullin said in the release. “This is an important and necessary step for the long-term viability of our communities. When we work as a collective network, using evidence-based models, we are able to achieve greater success for all.”

SSTF is a network of postsecondary leaders and philanthropists, working together to change institutional practice and policy across the nation and bring equity to education. The initiative is supported by Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan organization that conducts research, delivers reports, provides expert counsel on the full spectrum of education policy issues, and convenes education leaders across the 50 states to learn from each other.

Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based education policy nonprofit, received initial funding to support SSTF from Ascendium Education Group (formerly Great Lakes Higher Education Corp. & Affiliates), The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Kresge Foundation.

Earlier this year, four systems — City University of New York (CUNY), Ohio Department of Higher Education, State University of New York (SUNY) and University System of Georgia (USG) — were selected to join SSTF through a competitive process.  Arkansas’ application was held to the same high standard. As part of their commitment and partnership, each site agreed to scale practices known to help more student pass foundational math and English courses.

“We are encouraged by the data we are receiving from our initial sites,” said Jeremy Anderson, [resident of Education Commission of the States. “What is most exciting is that many colleges and universities were undertaking reforms, but this collective approach ensures that many more students will benefit. We are grateful to our supporters, who believe in a greater systemic impact, and to our system and state leaders, who are scaling evidence-based practices to support all students in the system.”

Arkansas’ focus under SSTF builds upon years of work to implement math pathways and other institutional reforms.

“The state is set to help many more students, especially those underprepared, through Strong Start,” Gov. Hutchinson said. “The students will be able to complete gateway English and math courses, and eventually credentials and degrees. Being a part of Strong Start to Finish will provide critical support to institutional leadership to increase success rates over the next few years.”

Arkansas will focus on redesigning foundational English and math courses based on evidence-based practices with the support of the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin and Complete College America. Strong Start Arkansas plans to reach approximately 50,000 students a year by 2020.

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