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2017 January 24 - 03:28 pm

Ark. Gov. Plans Grants for High-Demand Job Training

State Aims To Produce More Graduates, Keep Them In State

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — In an effort to produce workers who can either navigate a computer keyboard or wield an acetylene torch, Gov. Asa Hutchinson suggested a way for high school graduates, home-school graduates and non-traditional students to learn skills without paying a dime.

Hutchinson said his legislative agenda for 2017 would include the Arkansas Future Grant program, targeting at students interested in highdemand, high-paying fields. He cited computer coding and welding, while state Higher Education Director Maria Markham said funding could be found for any field where there is a local need.

“Those are just a couple of examples,” Markham said. The state’s Division of Workforce Services would produce a list of hot jobs from each region of the state and education officials would in turn target students. “It will be unique to each two year college what credentials are covered, but it will certainly be very broad,” she said.

Other grants and Arkansas’ lottery scholarship might cover only part of a student’s tuition and fees, leading some to give up their chance for a post-high school education, Hutchinson said. The new program offers them a greater assurance, he said.

Only about 1 in 5 Arkansans has a college degree, and Hutchinson said that only about 43 percent of the state’s residents have earned any degree or certificate after high school. He hopes to push the mark to 60 percent by 2025 — and believes this plan would help by imposing a three-year residency requirement for anyone who completes the program.

“This is common sense. The goal is to meet the growing economic needs of our state in high-need areas,” he said. “We want them to not be trained in Arkansas and go to Silicon Valley.”

Waivers would be available for special circumstances, such as family needs or a desire to pursue a bachelor’s degree, the governor said. “The key is that they are not abandoning the state,” Hutchinson said.

If lawmakers agree, Arkansas would provide two years of tuition and fees at community or technical colleges not covered by other grants and scholarships. Hutchinson said the state will be able to support it by tapping the $8.2 million currently set aside for its GO! And Workforce Improvement Grant programs that require less student accountability.

The GO! Program has a 77 percent dropout rate, while the WIG program doesn’t have a payback requirement.

To take part in the “ArFuture” program, students must perform eight hours of community service per semester and also meet with a mentor monthly.

Follow Kelly P. Kissel on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kisselAP and see a collection of his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/ author/kelly-p-kissel

Also from KELLY P. KISSEL, Associated Press

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