A nearly $200,000 grant from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation to the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith will help to graduate students in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, fields which have high job demand both locally and nationally.
UAFS received the grant, which will run for two-and-a-half years, to help seniors pursuing STEM-related disciplines persist to graduation. The funds will be used to research reasons for why STEM students leave prior to graduation. Additionally, a major component of the grant is to help financially challenged seniors in STEM programs overcome the myriad of issues they face in completing college, including financial, personal and familial challenges.
These efforts include working with childcare facilities near campus to provide services for STEM seniors with young children at reduced or no cost, providing financial assistance for tuition and/or fees, providing small stipends for living and other expenses for students and arranging transportation to shuttle students to and from campus.
Additionally, the university will enhance tutoring programs for STEM and implement marketing efforts under a campaign urging students to finish their education. The campaign, called “Finish the Course,” is aimed specifically at students who have completed more than 90 credit hours.
Dr. Ron Darbeau, dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and author of the grant, stressed its importance to the Fort Smith region and Arkansas as a whole.
“In Arkansas, the stakes could not be higher. The state currently ranks poorly with respect to post-secondary educational attainment, and although the number of college degrees and post-secondary credentials in the state have risen by nearly 30 percent in the past decade, it has fallen by 20 percent in STEM-related areas of study,” Darbeau said.
“Yet even with a decline in educational achievement in STEM disciplines, the economy continues to produce jobs that depend on math, science, technology and engineering,” Darbeau continued. “Statistics show that there are 2.4 STEM-related jobs for every unemployed person. All the while, STEM jobs are growing at 300 percent the rate of non-STEM jobs. This grant will help us educate, retain and graduate students to enter the workforce in these much-needed areas, both in Fort Smith and beyond.”
Darbeau added that the average professional with a STEM degree earns approximately $78,000 annually, compared to the annual salary for Americans of approximately $43,000.
Fields of study that qualify for the grant include the biology, engineering, chemistry, math, information technology and geosciences degree programs.
Dr. Paul B. Beran, UAFS chancellor, said the grant will help the university continue to serve the greater Fort Smith region.
“This grant will allow the university to continue to address the needs of the Fort Smith metropolitan area in a much-needed way,” Beran said. “Preparing students for careers in lucrative job fields will provide economic mobility to our students, which translates to increased economic development and, consequently, improved quality of place. We are thankful to the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation for the opportunity to help improve the lives of the students we serve.”
Great Lakes is a nonprofit organization established in 1967 to help students nationwide prepare for and succeed in postsecondary education and student loan repayment. As a leading student loan guarantor and servicer, Great Lakes has been selected by the U.S. Department of Education to provide assistance and repayment planning to more than eight million borrowers, as well as assistance to colleges and lenders nationwide. Its earnings support one of the largest and most respected educational philanthropy programs in the country.
Since 2006, Great Lakes has committed more than $172 million in grant funding to promote higher education access and completion for students of color, low-income students and first-generation students. For additional information about Great Lakes, visit www.mygreatlakes.org.
Pell-eligible STEM majors who have earned at least 90 hours toward their degrees are encouraged to contact JoAnn Chandler, advising coordinator for the College of STEM, at 479-788-7129, or Darbeau at 479-788-7611 for further details.
About the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith
The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is the premiere regional institution of Western Arkansas, connecting education with careers and serving as a driver of economic development and quality of place in the greater Fort Smith region. Through a small campus, dedicated professors, and the university’s unique bond with its community, students at UAFS are able to do more in the areas they are passionate about, both on- and off-campus, in a way that prepares them for post-graduate success. To find out how you can do more at UAFS, visit www.uafs.edu.