The Promise for Community Colleges

Part of developing a plan to enter the workforce for every high school graduate is to support a variety of education options, for every type of learner and to support a range of interests. Community colleges provide important skills, increase access to education, and create important opportunities for students to access jobs. Because community colleges have traditionally been underfunded, these programs become an even more important focus for Chris Jones.

According to recent data, around 64,000 Arkansans are enrolled in our state’s community colleges studying fields as diverse as healthcare, construction, and law enforcement. State-funded two-year programs are highly effective at creating upward mobility: while the average annual cost for these programs are less than $4,000 annually, they often provide career-long earnings increases of up to $1 million.

Arkansas’s community college system has not been thoroughly updated since it was established by the General Assembly in 1991. This means barriers to student access and success remain unaddressed, particularly disparities in academic opportunities before entering higher education, low internet connectivity in rural regions, and financial barriers to attendance. Adding to the strain are budget cuts that many schools have recently suffered to the state’s somewhat punitive budget calculation system. For example, Northwest Arkansas Community College suffered a sudden budget decrease of 5% in 2017, while the General Assembly approved 2-7% tuition price increases for students in 2018.

Despite these challenges, there are strong models to look to in reforming our community college system. For one, initial data from the Arkansas Future Grant suggests that the state-funded scholarship is increasing racial equity in two-year college access, and this program must be expanded. We must source federal funding and create private partnerships that increase workforce credential access by creating lower cost baccalaureate degree programs in Arkansas community colleges.

To increase educational opportunities for Arkansans in two-year colleges, Chris Jones would:

  • Increase funding for the Arkansas Future Grant so that a majority of two-year college students receive guaranteed financial aid.

  • Replace the current evaluation system for two-year college funding with a mechanism that provides stable, sufficient funding.

  • Support the passage of HB1854's provisions in the General Assembly to create low-cost four-year degrees based out of community colleges.

  • Work to reduce tuition costs to pre-2018 levels by increasing education allotments in the governor’s proposed state budget.