El Dorado Promise Benefits Felt Before College

January 20, 2012

Five years after the El Dorado Promise scholarship program was introduced to the students of the El Dorado, Arkansas School District, the program’s impact has reached further than the pocket books of college-bound students.  Students from Kindergarten through twelfth grade are shifting trends in enrollment, test scores, drop-out rates and graduation rates.   

On January 22, 2007, residents of El Dorado, Arkansas learned that a unique initiative called The El Dorado Promise would allow graduates of El Dorado Public Schools the opportunity to earn college degrees tuition-free as a result of a $50 million commitment by Murphy Oil Corporation to El Dorado’s greatest resource – its children.  

Since the 1990’s, student enrollment in El Dorado and in similar districts in southern Arkansas were declining consistently.  However, after the Promise was announced, enrollment in El Dorado began to increase to its fall 2011 level of 4,581 students.  If the previous rate of decline were to have continued, El Dorado would likely have lost 200 more students as of this school year, according to an independent study done by the Office of Education Policy at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (UA-OEP).  This is especially significant given the stable or declining enrollment of other Union County schools and comparable districts throughout the southern region of Arkansas. 

Thanks to an increased focus on college readiness, more students are taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes and other rigorous courses in high school.  This has resulted in a significant increase in the number of students scoring a three, four, or five on AP exams.  The Promise has provided incentive for younger students in El Dorado to begin to take school more seriously and work harder on their academics as well.  The study conducted by UA-OEP found that test scores at pre-high school levels have improved since the program was announced.

The study followed El Dorado students who were in third grade in the 2005-06 academic year, before the Promise was announced, until they reached seventh grade in 2010-11.  These El Dorado students were matched with identical students based on test scores, income level, and other criteria from similar school districts in southern Arkansas.   While each group had similar test scores in third grade, five years later, El Dorado students scored significantly better than their matched peers – and better than the Arkansas average – in both math and literacy. 

The school district has also experienced major changes in the graduation rate and drop-out rate of its students.  According to the UA-OEP study, while other comparable districts also saw a decrease in the number of students that dropped out of school, none decreased as dramatically as did El Dorado prior to the existence of the Promise. In 2006-07, the district drop-out rate was higher than the state average. However, after the announcement of the Promise, that rate fell far below the state average. 

Likewise, the graduation rate increased. The El Dorado School District’s graduation rate had historically been lower than the average rate in Union County, and lower than comparable districts in southern Arkansas. However, only two years after the implementation of the Promise program, the graduation rate for El Dorado was as high as or higher than comparable districts. 

As anticipated, more El Dorado students are going to college now than ever before.  Prior to the Promise, on average sixty percent of graduating classes were in enrolling in college.  This fall, ninety percent of Promise-eligible 2011 EHS graduates went on to enroll in college.  To date, 997 El Dorado graduates have attended college utilizing a Promise scholarship. 

U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, congratulated the El Dorado High School senior class in April during an annual Academic Signing Day celebration.   

“Thanks to Murphy Oil Corporation for their $50 million commitment,” Duncan said via video message. He said President Barack Obama’s goal to “out-educate the rest of the world” can be achieved through gifts like the Promise. “This is a tremendous, tremendous success story. We need more of these partnerships,” he said. 

The El Dorado Promise pays tuition and mandatory fees for all students who graduate from El Dorado High School, reside in the district, and have been an El Dorado Public School student since at least the ninth grade.  El Dorado Promise students can attend any accredited two or four-year college or university in the U. S.  The maximum amount of the Promise scholarship is based on the maximum resident tuition payable at an Arkansas public university.  In 2011-2012, the highest tuition rate in the state was $7,180 per year.

For more detailed information on the latest analysis of the El Dorado Promise impact, see the 2012 Impact Report on www.eldoradopromise.com.

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