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El Dorado Promise results in better math and reading scores

Students in the El Dorado School District made gains in reading and math since the enactment of the El Dorado Promise as compared to matched peers in similar districts, according to a study released Thursday (April 23) by the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas.

The El Dorado Promise Program is a $50 million scholarship program established and funded by El Dorado-based Murphy Oil Corp. in January 2007 and modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise.

The El Dorado Promise provides every high school graduate of El Dorado High School who has been enrolled in the El Dorado Public School district since at least ninth grade with a college scholarship to any accredited two-year or four-year, public or private educational institution in the U.S. The maximum amount payable is up to the highest annual resident tuition and mandatory fees at an Arkansas public university, currently $7,818 per year.

When combined with the Arkansas Challenge Lottery Scholarship or others, it may be used for other college expenses, such as room and board.

Promise scholarships are intended as an educational and economic development intervention. As an educational intervention, Promise scholarships’ primary purpose is to reduce students’ financial barriers to attending college, resulting in increased college enrollment and attainment. Consequently, the Promise is hypothesized to foster a “college-going” culture throughout the district that will consequently improve intermediary educational outcomes, such as high school graduation and academic achievement.

As an economic development intervention, the Promise is hypothesized to enhance the local economy by increasing the supply of educated workers in the area, both by attracting individuals and employees to relocate to the area and by increasing the proportion of local students who receive a college degree and may return.

A new study released by the University of Arkansas’ Office for Education Policy found positive impacts of the Promise on district enrollment and academic achievement. After the Promise was announced in 2007, El Dorado Public Schools’ enrollment increased after a decades-long decline in numbers, while enrollment in other Union County districts and comparable districts throughout the southern region of Arkansas continued to decline.

The study also found positive results in math and reading. More than 2,300 students who were in grades 4-8 when the program was announced outperformed similar peers in similar districts on the Arkansas Benchmark Exam by 7 percentile points in literacy and 6 percentile points in math.

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This report is part of a multi-year comprehensive evaluation of the impacts of the El Dorado Promise conducted by Jennifer Ash, doctoral candidate in education policy and managing director of the OEP, and Gary Ritter, endowed chair in education policy and director of the OEP.

On Monday, April 28, the El Dorado School District will hold its eighth annual Academic Signing Day, in which almost 300 graduating seniors receiving El Dorado Promise scholarships will sign letters of intent to attend 34 different colleges and universities in Arkansas and across the nation. Gov. Mike Beebe will be this year’s keynote speaker.

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