University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Arkansas’ Education Pipeline

In The View from the OEP on May 4, 2016 at 12:38 pm

How many Arkansas kindergartners will finish college?


First off, we would like to clarify a number reported in Monday’s Democrat Gazette.  The print article stated “Nearly two-thirds of students who started at an Arkansas public university in fall 2009 graduated four and six years after they enrolled, according to data from the state Department of Higher Education.”

The suggestion that 66% of Arkansas college students graduate in four or six years caught our attention, as the national average is less than 60%.  The reality is that only 27.6% of Arkansas students who attend four-year institutions actually graduate in four years. An additional 12.1% graduate after six years, bringing the total percentage of graduates to 39.7%.

Let’s follow the progress of a classroom of kindergartners, given what we know about the educational pipeline in Arkansas.


While the numbers aren’t actually tracking individual students through the Kindergarten->Post- Secondary system, we are applying high school graduation, college- going, and college completion rates to the Kindergarten class of fall 2002.

  • 35,283 students were enrolled in kindergarten in Arkansas’ public schools in fall of 2002.
  • 29,955 of these kindergartners graduated on time in 2014-15 (applying Arkansas’ statewide graduation rate of 84.9%)
  •   9,286 of these high school graduates are headed off to an Arkansas university after graduation (applying Arkansas’ college-going rate of 31% to four-year in-state institutions)
  •   2,563 of those who go to university will graduate in four years (given historical college graduation rates of 27.6%) and 1,123 more students will graduate in six years

These numbers indicate that  ONE in TEN Arkansas’ kindergartners will successfully complete a four-year university in six years.

Some high school graduates also attend two-year colleges. Recent data show it is 16.2% so 4,852 of our kindergartners are headed in that direction.  Of those, 742 (15.3%) will complete in two years, and an additional 223 will finish in three years.

A small percentage (3%) of Arkansas graduates attend private or independent colleges or universities in the state.  That would be 899 kids from our kindergarten class. 334 (37%) will graduate in four years, and an additional 124 would complete in six years.

Essentially, 3 kids from each kindergarten classroom of 20 students (14.5% of our kindergartners) will complete a college degree by the time they are 24.


There are several suggestions that we have to improve the percentage of Arkansas students getting college degrees.  What do we recommend?

1: Be accurate and clear. We are sure that the two-thirds error on Monday was unintentional, but it is important to share correct data and it helps to put these numbers in a context we can all understand.  We also wish we had better data about how many high school graduates go to school out-of-state and how successful they are. While better data won’t directly help students graduate, it can help identify the problem areas.

2: Look deeper into graduation rates.  High school graduation rates in Arkansas are above the national average, but many of our students are still not prepared for success in post-secondary education. Over 54% of Arkansas students will need remediation to be successful in college English or math courses.

3: Provide more effective support for students entering post-secondary schools. This could include enhanced transition activities while students are in high school, innovative ‘meet students where they are’ supports like frequent text reminders to students to complete important financial aid forms, better data systems linking K-12 and post-secondary systems,active reduction of stigma associated with ‘needing help’ be it academic or financial, and student advisors who are well-trained and strategically assigned students to support.

Arkansas site near the bottom of the nation in the percentage of adults with college degrees.  Unless we do more to ensure our students are ready for success in college, and to support them through college graduation, it looks like we will stay where we are.







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