College of the Ouachitas Announces Commitment to Expand College Access at White House Event

Today, College of the Ouachitas’ President, Dr. Stephen Schoonmaker, will join President Obama, the First Lady, and Vice President Biden along with hundreds of college presidents and other higher education leaders to announce new actions to help more students prepare for and graduate from college. 

The White House College Opportunity Day of Action helps to support the President’s commitment to partner with colleges and universities, business leaders, and nonprofits to support students across the country to help our nation reach its goal of leading the world in college attainment.  
                                
College of the Ouachitas has a history of being on the forefront of innovation regarding student success. Modular math has been a curricular mainstay since 2003, long before most colleges considered using it.  Our College and Career Access Program, which provides the most academically at-risk students free remediation services on campus so they do not expend financial aid before entering college-level classes was the first of its kind in Arkansas.  The College’s designation in 2012 as an Achieving the Dream Leader College, and a Center for Working Families 2012 Sustaining Innovator award recipient illustrates the College’s commitment to student success. 

Since the College’s selection as a Top Ten Community College in the Nation by the Aspen Institute for Community College Excellence in 2013, we have continued to identify and initiate innovative practice to increase student success.  The College has furthered its commitment to accelerated academic progress, integrated support services for students’ success, increased certificate and degree attainment, and facilitated workforce acclimatization.  Adoption of the “Engage—Educate—Empower” focus for student success is the latest evidence of campus-wide commitment to fulfilling the College’s degree attainment mission.

The College plans to increase degree completion resulting in greater transfer and job placement or promotion rates through the implementation of national initiatives such as Guided Pathways, Mathways Project, and the Academy for College Excellence Arkansas effort.  Additionally, the College is scaling existing student success support services to all members of the campus community as we develop a comprehensive one-stop advising and student success coaching center to help students be aware, and take advantage, of the services available at the College.  These initiatives provide a holistic approach for our students to understand the value of degree attainment and to realize degree completion as an achievable goal. 

President Schoonmaker stated from the White House summit, “I am honored to be representing College of the Ouachitas in DC today as we announce the College’s commitment to increase student access by more than 25%; and to raise our students’ success completion headcount rate by more than 150% by the year 2020.  These are ambitious goals; however, they are made based on a multi-year, data-informed, and campus-tailored process that has created an intentional and integrated set of student success initiatives to achieve greater access and completion.”
Dr. Schoonmaker continued, “I believe these innovations are integral to the College’s fulfillment of the courageous and collaborative leadership required in our communities to transform and revitalize rural Arkansas, and rural America.  I look forward to today’s meeting with the President and First Lady, along with other higher education leaders, to map out plans to better prepare a skilled workforce to sustain and improve our local, regional, national, and global economies for decades to come.”

Today’s participants were asked to commit to new action in one of four areas: building networks of colleges around promoting completion, creating K-16 partnerships around college readiness, investing in high school counselors as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative, and increasing the number of college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The President will announce new steps on how his Administration is helping to support these actions, including announcing $10 million to help promote college completion and a $30 million AmeriCorps program that will improve low-income students’ access to college.  Today’s event is the second College Opportunity Day of Action, and will include a progress report on the commitments made at the first day of action on January 14, 2014.

Expanding opportunity for more students to enroll and succeed in college, especially low-income and underrepresented students, is vital to building a strong economy and a strong middle class.  Today, only 9 percent of those born in the lowest family income quartile attain a bachelor’s degree by age 25, compared to 54 percent in the top quartile. In an effort to expand college access, the Obama Administration has increased Pell scholarships by $1,000 a year, created the new American Opportunity Tax Credit worth up to $10,000 over four years of college, limited student loan payments to 10 percent of income, and laid out an ambitious agenda to reduce college costs and promote innovation and competition.