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Dollars for Scholars

Four years ago, a promising young student named Austin Nelson of Little Rock was considering going out of state for college. His work in high school earned him scholarship offers from universities in neighboring states and in the Ivy League. And he needed those scholarships. As any parent knows, the best universities and colleges aren’t cheap.

Fortunately, thanks to a Governor’s Distinguished Scholarship, Austin stayed in state to attend school. He is now a senior at Hendrix College in Conway. Recently, he was selected to present his senior thesis to the national political honor society convention on the Georgetown University campus in Washington.

One of the people commenting on the paper called it “Ph.D.-level work by an undergraduate.”

Because Austin stayed in Arkansas to go to college, chances are that he’ll make his home here, start his family here, and keep that Ph.D.-level mind at work here.

Governor’s scholarships are awarded to Arkansas’s top high school students. These are students who score at least a 32 on the ACT. Two years ago, fewer than 300 students qualified. Currently, 488 students are eligible and more are applying. This is good news. Our students are better prepared coming out of high school, and our top performers could go to school almost anywhere in the country. But we want to keep them in Arkansas. So last week, I sent a letter to a legislative review committee requesting an additional $2 million from the Rainy Day fund be used to fill a funding gap for the Governor’s Scholarships.

These scholarships really do keep our best and brightest in Arkansas. Austin is a prime example of that. If you attend college in Arkansas, you are MUCH more likely to make a career here.

We’ve certainly seen that trend in reverse.

The other night, I played a charity basketball game with members of the House and Senate. We had a few ringers, too — like Pat Bradley, the former Razorback. Pat grew up in Boston — and still has the accent to prove it — but he fell in love with Arkansas when he attended the U of A and made it his home.

Another example is Warwick Sabin, the state Representative from Little Rock. Rep. Sabin is a New Yorker, but he attended college here, stayed and now serves our state in the General Assembly.

We’re happy to have them here. But we also want to keep our young Pat Bradleys and Warwick Sabins from putting down stakes elsewhere because they couldn’t afford college in Arkansas.

Plus, keeping the brain power in Arkansas is just good business. A recent survey found that the fastest-growing companies in the United States valued a pool of talented employees more than any other business-related resource a city can offer. The second-most important factor in locating a business? Quality of life.

Access to talent and a great place to live.

That sounds a lot like Arkansas — especially if we keep our best and brightest right here where they belong.

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