UCA Initiative ‘Historic Moment’ for Central Arkansas Economy 

The University of Central Arkansas announced an initiative offering a pathway to a debt-free college degree to tens of thousands of Arkansas students on Sept. 7.  

Starting in the fall of 2024, the UCA Commitment will offer financial assistance equal to the cost of tuition to incoming freshman students from Arkansas households earning up to $100,000.  

Conway Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Brad Lacy called the announcement “the most historic moment for Conway’s talent and workforce since recruiting the three colleges more than 100 years ago.”  

“A four-year degree increases lifetime earnings, reduces the odds of being unemployed, and even contributes to a longer and healthier life,” said Lacy. “Every part of Conway’s economy is directly connected to education. More graduates mean a full pipeline of prospective employees. Our region will be able to compete for better and higher paying jobs.” 

UCA will become the only public university in the state to offer this type of financial assistance. According to recent U.S. Census Bureau data, Arkansas is home to more than 225,000 families with children whose households earn less than $100,000 annually. One-hundred and thirty-two thousand of those families have children aged 6-17.  

In August, Forbes placed the Little Rock-Conway-North Little Rock MSA No. 10 among 100 of the most populous metropolitan areas in the United States for young professionals. However, recently released survey data from the census bureau shows the percentage of population aged 18-24 enrolled in college or graduate school has declined by almost 10% since 2011 in central Arkansas.  

UCA President Houston Davis said many factors effect enrollment, but that cost plays a significant role.  

“Far too often, the real and perceived costs of a college degree prevent young people from attempting college and meeting their full potential,” said Davis. “Additionally, every year students in good academic standing leave without a degree for financial reasons. The UCA Commitment will mean more than increased enrollment. It will mean more graduates.” 

In 2022, the Federal Reserve’s Annual Economic Well-Being Survey asked adults what changes they would now make to earlier education decisions. Completing more education was the most common change that those with less education would have made if they were able to make a change.  

Sixty-seven percent of those without a college degree and 61% of those with an associate degree said they would like to have completed more education. For those with a bachelor’s degree or more, choosing a different field of study – 37 % – was the most common change they would make to their education. Few people of any education level said they would have completed less education if they could make their decisions again. 

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