LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - Statewide only about 25% of Arkansans have a college degree and legislators are worried the state's lack of higher education is holding state economic growth back. New legislation is hoping to turn that statistic on its head.
Vision 2025, formally known in the Arkansas legislature at Act 1082, established a legislative commission whose goal is to brainstorm for the future of higher education. The commission's goal is set to double the amount of Arkansans that graduate from college - from nearly 25% to around 50%.
The measure was passed back in April with an overwhelming majority. Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-31st) was chosen along with Sen. Johnny Key (R-17th) to chair the commission. But Elliott, a former Little Rock school teacher, believed this wasn't just something the state could legislate.
"We had been piecemealing the way we were responding to higher ed. and its needs," commented Elliott on the legislature's efforts to address secondary education.
"It's time for us to start as a state, not as a legislature, but a state to take a look at how do we reach that goal."
Elliott championed legislation to gather everyday Arkansans from across the state, vested in supporting higher education, to become a part of the Vision 2025 commission.
Twenty people including Sarah Roberson, executive director of City Year in Little Rock, were chosen to join the group. Roberson's organization helps provide tutoring services to underserved children in both Little Rock and North Little Rock public schools.
"I understand what's happening in the community with young people who are working hard to graduate high school and at City Year, we know what that means," said Roberson.
Both Roberson and Elliott agree the main issue standing in the way of higher education in Arkansas is the culture of higher education. They believe there's a culture of not, "where are you going to college," but rather, "will you go."
"It is keenly important to be careful about this conversation of saying not everybody needs to go to college," said Elliott. "For us in Arkansas it's a particular thing - of course not everyone is going to go."
But Elliott says it's important to encourage Arkansans to go to college since state economic growth is dependent on Arkansas getting out of last place in the nation for attaining higher education. Garnering the attention of bigger business is tied to having a workforce to support the jobs the companies would bring here.
The educational and economic changes are up to the populace of Arkansas to change, claims both Elliott & Roberson. So the commission will travel to all parts of the state seeking input from a diverse group of Arkansans to help solve one of the state's biggest problems. Roberson said it's not just a problem of one part of the state, it's a statewide issue.
"Everybody in this state is committed to children and I think everyone in this state is committed to education," said Roberson. "I think that if we really double-down on this as a community, we can make this happen."
The commission is set to meet again in November, but there is no set date on when community based meetings will begin.