State Sen. Paul Miller
Per capita income in Arkansas is about 75 percent of the national average, and according to a recent study the relatively low income of Arkansas residents is due largely to a lack of education.
Since 1980 the average per capita income in Arkansas has remained at about 75 percent of the national average. In 2002 it was 76 percent of the national average. The average income in 2002 in Arkansas was $23,417. Only Mississippi had a lower average per capita income. By comparison, the national average per capita income was $30,941.
From 2000 to 2002, Arkansas dropped from 47th to 49th in rankings of the 50 states.
The report was issued by the Southern Education Foundation, which is based in Atlanta. Foundation officials who released the report at a news conference in Little Rock emphasized that educational improvements are perhaps the single most effective method of raising incomes.
Almost half of Arkansas students come from low-income families, and even though they have the ability to excel in academics they often do not have educational opportunities to take advantage of their talent, foundation officials said.
The foundation recommended an expansion of pre-school programs, improved teacher training and more aggressive recruiting of teachers, better preparation of high school students for a college career and enhancing access to higher education.
For the past several years, more than half of the freshman classes at Arkansas colleges and universities have had to enroll in remedial courses to bring their academic skills up to the level required in higher education classes. Those students do not get college credits for completing remedial courses.
Arkansas needs to increase access to higher education by making college more affordable and accessible to students from low-income families. Only five states do a worse job of moving low-income students into colleges and universities, according the Southern Education Foundation. The foundation recommended that Arkansas provide more financial aid for college students.
Elected officials and educators in Arkansas paid special attention to the report because the Legislature is expected to convene in special session Dec. 8 to consider major reforms of the public school system. A year ago the state Supreme Court ruled that Arkansas public schools were inadequately and inequitably funded, in violation of the state Constitution.