Bill’s letter to Arkansans

My fellow Arkansans,

Arkansas is at a crossroads, and this next election will set our state’s course for the next generation. The question is how do we prepare our people to compete and prosper in a rapidly changing global economy? Google, with over 32,000 employees and a market capitalization of $270 billion is younger than today’s 10th grade students. Facebook, with over one billion users, and valued somewhere around $65 billion, didn’t exist 10 years ago.  Many of the businesses that’ll be changing the world 10 years from now do not even exist today.

The critical ingredient for the success of leading companies is a well-educated, well-trained workforce. That is why I believe the single most important thing we can do to bring those kinds of businesses to Arkansas—and to help Arkansans find the best-paying jobs—is to improve access to higher education.

Young adults who receive a college degree today on average can expect to earn $1 million more over the course of their working lives than similarly situated Arkansans who do not. But Arkansas currently ranks 49th out of 50 states in the percentage of our workforce with college degrees—behind Mississippi and ahead of only West Virginia. And we’re not just competing with other states. Within two decades, China will have 200 million college graduates. That’s more than the entire U.S. workforce. Within the next 10 years, India will produce four times as many college graduates as the United States. We must meet this challenge. It is time to give every Arkansas high school student the opportunity to attend college if they earn it.

I call it The Arkansas Promise.

Simply stated, if you go to high school in Arkansas, qualify for a lottery scholarship, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and plan to attend college in the state, we promise to pay your college tuition. The overall scholarship level would be set at the tuition level of the highest cost four-year public university in Arkansas. And we will pay for this investment without raising taxes, by combining the Lottery Scholarship, federal grant aid, philanthropic support, and additional Arkansas scholarship funds.

Several forward-leaning communities have made promises of opportunity through higher education for their students. The Kalamazoo Promise, the El Dorado Promise, and the Arkadelphia Promise have provided hope for their communities.

But no state in America has made the same promise, and Arkansas should be the first.

The Arkansas Promise builds on the great success of the Arkansas Lottery Scholarship program. To date, we’ve put $300 million in the scholarship fund and awarded nearly 100,000 scholarships. Many students who never considered college an option are now pursuing opportunities to achieve a better future for themselves and their families, while at the same time improving the economic prospects of their communities, and our entire state.

We are all shaped by our own experiences in life. I have spent over half of my career in the private sector working with highly innovative companies in information technology, telecommunications, biotechnology, medical devices, biofuels, and energy conservation that have created thousands of jobs. At every one of these companies, I’ve seen firsthand how essential higher education is in today’s world, and I want every Arkansan to get the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

I believe that we ought to be a society where everyone has the chance to live up to his or her God-given potential. We can’t guarantee that everyone will succeed, but we can guarantee that everyone will have an opportunity to succeed if they work hard and they’re responsible. We hear politicians talk all the time about the importance of education. Well, let’s do more than just talk about it.

The pages that follow spell out in detail how we can do it and how to pay for it. Some may find this too ambitious. But if you wouldn’t hire a football coach who doesn’t aspire to winning the national championship and have a plan to do so, then why would you hire a Chief Executive Officer of the state who doesn’t aspire to help make Arkansas the best state in America and have a plan to make it happen?

We have, as a country, long believed that this is the land where everybody gets a shot, no matter where you come from. When I was growing up in North Little Rock, we Arkansans called our state the “Land of Opportunity.” Together, we can once again live up to that aspiration.

Thanks,

Bill Halter