Weekly Columns

Education plays an important role in the prosperity of our country. 150 years ago, Congress demonstrated its importance by passing landmark legislation that changed shaped higher education.

In 1862, President Lincoln signed the Morrill Act. This law created a new model of education: land-grant colleges, charged with making higher education more widely available, accessible, and affordable; and using the combination of teaching, research, and public service to advance the common economic good of individuals and society. We can see the result in our backyard at the University of Arkansas.

The Morrill Act is a sign of our commitment to education and providing Americans with accessibility to higher learning. This made a big difference in education in our state as well as across the country. We can be proud of the University of Arkansas and its contributions to education, research and our state.

To commemorate this milestone, we passed a resolution in the Senate honoring the contributions of the Morrill Act.  We celebrated this landmark law with the University of Arkansas leaders at a recent reception in Washington. 

The University is an economic engine in our state generating more than $725 million annually according to a 2010 report by the UA’s Sam Walton College of Business. In addition, the school helps create a good employment base in the state. Education helps build the groundwork for a good business atmosphere. City, county, state and federal leaders are all working hard to attract businesses to the state in order to provide jobs for hardworking Arkansans. In order to attract well-paying businesses, we need to have a workforce that can fulfill the needs of potential employers. This can require specialized skills or education that makes the labor force more valuable. Education is a key component to help our economy.

The good news is that Arkansas is rich in educational opportunities. From the University of Arkansas system to trade schools to traditional universities, there are programs offered that accommodate all levels of education. There has been remarkable progress at improving public education and challenging our students to stay competitive in this global economy.

Arkansas education is experiencing significant gains. In the past decade, our public school students showed substantial improvements according to a recent report by the Southern Regional Education Board.

Among the achievements are increases to math scores with eighth grade students leading the nation in improvement by almost seven points and the greatest increase in the number of students taking an Advanced Placed test. These gains reflect the priority and new programs established to improve student success and learning in the state.

This is great progress in the right direction and affirms the steps our state leaders are taking and programs they are implementing benefits students and helps lay a good foundation for future growth for our students and our state.