UA joins White House effort to help low-income students succeed

WASHINGTON — At a White House summit on Thursday, University of Arkansas Chancellor G. David Gearhart joined other education leaders in pledging to expand college access and success to low-income students.

In Arkansas, Gearhart said there is a commitment to increase programs that will help low-income and minority students enroll, afford and graduate with a degree that will give them an advantage in the work force.

“We want to be a place where students of all income brackets can come to,” Gearhart said during a break Thursday afternoon.

UA has already established an ACT Academy that provides low-income, underrepresented students with a five-day residential summer program to help them prepare for the college admissions test, he said. UA also has tutoring and mentoring programs for these students once they arrive on the Fayetteville campus.

Among new programs being developed is an academic enrichment program for first generation and low-income Arkansas students. The program recently received a $2.1 million gift from the Walton Family Foundation.

The university is also establishing a six-week summer “bridge” program to transition low-income students entering the university. Historically, such entering freshman struggle with the culture shock of the academic and social life on campus, he said.

UA will also establish a first-year experience course that focuses on the special concerns of first generation and low-income students as well as enhanced tutoring opportunities.

Gearhart said he was impressed with the passionate plea made by First Lady Michelle Obama for making sure every child has an opportunity to go beyond a high school education.

“She did a marvelous job of capturing the real essence of this effort, which is to help Americans access the opportunity system,” Gearhart said.

The event was streamed live on the White House website, including speeches from President Obama and the first lady.

“We have to make sure that there are new ladders of opportunity into the middle class, and that those ladders — the rungs on those ladders are solid and accessible for more people,” the president said. “Today is a great example of how, without a whole bunch of new legislation, we can advance this agenda.”

Michelle Obama recounted her own college experience as an example of what can result from a little helping hand.

“The truth is that if Princeton hadn’t found my brother as a basketball recruit, and if I hadn’t seen that he could succeed on a campus like that, it never would have occurred to me to apply to that school — never,” she said. “And, I know that there are so many kids out there just like me.”