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El Dorado Promise Making a Difference

Study shows local students posting gains in reading and math.

El Dorado -- Students in the El Dorado School District have made gains in reading and math since the enactment of the El Dorado Promise, as compared to matched peers in similar districts, according to a study released Thursday by the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas.

 

The El Dorado Promise is a $50 million scholarship program established and funded by the Murphy Oil Corp. in January 2007 and modeled after the Kalamazoo, Mich. Promise.

 

The El Dorado Promise provides every high school graduate of El Dorado High School who has been enrolled in the El Dorado Public School district since at least ninth grade with a college scholarship to any accredited two-year or four-year, public or private educational institution in the U.S.

 

The maximum amount payable is up to the highest annual resident tuition and mandatory fees at an Arkansas public university, currently $7,818 per year. When combined with the Arkansas Challenge Lottery Scholarship or others, it may be used for other college expenses, such as room and board.

 

Promise scholarships are intended as both an educational and economic development intervention. As an educational intervention, Promise scholarships’ primary purpose is to reduce students’ financial barriers to attending college, resulting in increased college enrollment and attainment. Consequently, the Promise is hypothesized to foster a “college-going” culture throughout the district that will improve intermediary educational outcomes, such as high school graduation and academic achievement.

 

As an economic development intervention, the Promise is hypothesized to enhance the local economy by increasing the supply of educated workers in the area, both by attracting individuals and employees to relocate to the area and by increasing the proportion of local students who receive a college degree and may return.

 

A new study released by the University of Arkansas’ Office for Education Policy found positive impacts of the Promise on district enrollment and academic achievement. After the Promise was announced in 2007, El Dorado Public Schools’ enrollment increased after a decades-long decline in numbers, while enrollment in other Union County school districts and comparable districts throughout the southern region of Arkansas continued to decline.

 

The study also found positive results in both math and reading. More than 2,300 students who were in grades four through eight when the program was announced outperformed similar peers in similar districts on the Arkansas Benchmark Exam by 7 percentile points in literacy and 6 percentile points in math.

 

This report is part of a multi-year comprehensive evaluation of the impacts of the El Dorado Promise conducted by Jennifer Ash, doctoral candidate in education policy and managing director of the OEP, and Gary Ritter, endowed chair in education policy and director of the OEP.

 

On Monday, the El Dorado School District will hold its eighth annual Academic Signing Day, in which almost 300 graduating seniors receiving El Dorado Promise scholarships will sign letters of intent to attend 34 different colleges and universities in Arkansas and across the nation.

 

Gov. Mike Beebe will be this year’s keynote speaker.

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