Katie McClenahan: I just about started to cry because we weren’t so sure how we were going to pay for college with what my mom was going through.
Jessica: Katie McClenahan is about to start college at Henderson State University in Arkansas. Something she might not have been able to do.
Katie: Last year, on my 17th birthday, my dad had to rush my mom to the emergency room because she couldn’t breathe very well.
Jessica: Katie’s mom was having health problems. And money soon became a big concern for her family.
Katie: My dad is self employed and he is the only one bringing in any income and my mom isn’t able to work.
Jessica: But that concern quickly turned to excitement when Katie, along with 110 students from the 2011 graduating class at Arkadelphia High School received a big promise.
Katie: I knew that I’d be able to go to college for practically free, without having to pay a thing. And I was excited happy and so ecstatic, I couldn’t even sit down for awhile!
Jessica: The promise? Financial aid to help pay tuition at any accredited two-year or four-year college or university in the U.S. But there is a catch. Students must graduate from Arkadelphia High School and maintain a 2.5 GPA.
The goal is to get local students to go to college and cut down on the amount of students that drop out because they can’t afford it.
In 2008, nearly 350,000 Arkansas residents had completed some college but had not earned a degree. In fact, only 26.5% of adults received a college degree. That is below the national average of 37.9%.
Principal Maxwell is hoping the scholarship will help students finish college.
Principal Maxwell: Our kids are very good at freshmen year of earning those $500; $1,000; $2,500 scholarships. They are one time deals. They get the money on the front end and they don’t ever have it coming in again. Maybe this will be the part that allows him, him or her, to stay in school. That’s the key, staying and finishing. Not running out of money.
Jessica: Most experts agree that more people with a good education in the work force boosts the country’s economy, and some say that is one of the reasons why the United States has not fully recovered from the global financial crisis. They say there are not enough workers with advanced skills and knowledge and the types of things that you learn in colleges.
The program is funded by the Ross Foundation and Southern Bancorp, two Arkadelphia-based organizations.
The hope is that students will learn new skills and then come back to Arkadelphia and help grow their community.