University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

FYI: Less than 50% of AR high school grads head to college, and less than half of those that do will get a degree

In The View from the OEP on August 2, 2017 at 12:36 pm

Students throughout the state are preparing for a new school year, and some students are experiencing two of the biggest changes: entering kindergarten or entering the first year of college!

Students entering Arkansas public school kindergarten classrooms this fall become the Graduating Class of 2030.  The parents of these young students will be dropping them off or loading them on buses in a few weeks and will be filled with tears and worries and hopes and dreams. Some parents might see this as the first step toward college, but given Arkansas’ current educational pipeline, it is unlikely that their student will receive a college degree.



Similar students entered kindergarten in the fall of 2003 becoming the Class of 2016, and a new report from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education allows us to consider the longer-term outcomes for these recent graduates. Last fall, 49.7% of the Class of 2016 entered a two- or four- year college in Arkansas.

Let’s follow the progress of the Class of 2016, given what we know about the educational pipeline in Arkansas.  Average class size in Arkansas is 16 students K-12, but kindergarten classes are limited to 20 students with one teacher.  This is a lower ratio than some surrounding states; Texas has a limit of 22 and Missouri is 25.

K class

In 2016, 87% of the expected Class of 2016 graduated from high school! Over 30,000 students received their high school diploma within four years of entering high school. For our illustrative kindergarten class- that means 17 of the initial 20 graduated!


This is great! Graduation rates differ somewhat by student demographics, but even if all the kindergarten students were academically at risk, 17 would still graduate on time given current rates.

According to the new report, 49.7% of those students enrolled in a two- or four-year college the following fall. Most go to a four-year college, but 1/3 go to two-year colleges.

For our kindergarten class- that is 8 students.

College Going

But these 8 students who have successfully graduated high school AND applied AND been accepted into college are not yet home free! According to data from Arkansas Department of Education, 57% of the college-going graduates needed to take a remedial course once they arrived at college because they did not meet the minimum score of 19 on the ACT math and/or reading.

For our kindergarten class – that is 4.6 out the 8 college-going students that would require remediation.

Remediation  rem2

Having to complete a remedial course is associated with decreased chances of graduating. Maybe because they are not free and no credit is awarded. Five of our 8 students are facing these increased challenges because they did not demonstrate being ‘college ready’ before leaving high school. Given current trends, half of remediated students will not return for a second year.

We see this when we apply the graduation rates from Arkansas colleges:  41% of incoming freshman graduate in 6 years from 4-year institutions and 27% of those who enter 2-year colleges graduates within 3 years.


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

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


That is depressing…. Are these data accurate?

Looking over the lists of Arkansas’ National Merit Scholars or Academic All Stars, we see that  many of out “best and brightest” high school graduates are headed out-of–state for college.  These students are not included in the ADHE college-going rate which only tracks graduates who attend in-state institutions.   Many other graduates may be going to school out-of-state as well, especially those from areas close to a bordering state. How many do that?  WE HAVE NO IDEA! 

But there is a way to find out!  National Student Clearinghouse Research Center is a non-profit that partners with colleges and universities that enroll over 98% of all higher education students in the country. Using this information, we could find out the ACTUAL percentage of Arkansas graduates attending college- including those who attend school outside of our borders. In addition, we can learn where our students are going and if they are graduating successfully.  While better data won’t directly help students graduate from college, they can help identify problem areas.

Something that MAY help Arkansas students graduate from college is the new method for funding colleges and universities. The change will start next July, and will be based on a school’s “productivity index”, which will reward schools for the number of degrees/credentials awarded.  In addition, high demand and STEM degrees earn more points for an institution, and additional points are earned for at-risk students such as those who are enrolled in a remedial course or are Hispanic or Black, or received federal student aid due to financial need.   While some are concerned that this change in funding might lead to a lowering of the bar for degrees, we are optimistic that it will help institutions become more student-focused and remove unnecessary barriers to success.

The K-12 system needs to focus on student success as well.  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 57% of Arkansas students will need remediation to be successful in college English or math courses.  Hopefully the ACT Aspire assessments and statewide ACT exams for high school juniors will provide more opportunities for students, parents, and teachers to identify the level of readiness for college and careers, and enough information to provide needed instruction prior to college entrance.

Arkansas is nearly last in the nation in the percentage of adults with college degrees.  Arkansas’ 20.8% of adults with an Associate’s or a Bachelor’s degree is lower than that of all other states except West Virginia.  We need to do more to ensure that the Class of 2030 who are entering kindergarten this month will have a greater likelihood of obtaining a degree.

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