1. Introduction

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) is a public university established and funded to advance the state of Arkansas and its people. That is what UALR is about. UALR’s role in advancing Arkansas and its people is what this strategic plan is about.

Benefits of Higher Education

Higher education offers extremely significant benefits to a state. Three pieces of evidence—two of them rather dramatic statistics-based “pictures”—are all the evidence needed to support this proposition.

Figure 1-1 is an illustration published by Postsecondary Education Opportunity, and it shows on a national basis that more education and more income go together and that less education and more unemployment go together.

Figure 1-1 Education, Employment and Income

Higher income is arguably not even the most important benefit of higher education, but it is important, and it is the benefit most readily understood. In any event, the relationship between education and income and between education and employment are remarkable.

Figure 1-2 shows a different kind of benefit. In a country with a democratic system of government, citizen participation is fundamental. Figure 1-2 shows the relationship of education levels and citizen participation in democratic processes, specifically voting in a presidential election. They go hand in hand. As one goes up, so does the other.

Figure 1-2 Voting Rates for Citizens in 2004 Presidental Election by Educational Attainment

Figure 1-3 shows the remarkable set of benefits higher education provides both the community (“public” benefits) and the individual (“private” benefits). The “Array of Higher Education Benefits” Figure 1-3 is a frequently reproduced summary prepared by the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Each of the 20 items in the array is a very significant benefit of higher education.

Figure 1-3 The Array of HIgher Education Benefits

The State’s Standing

UALR and the other colleges and universities in Arkansas have a very large task in front of them if citizens of the state are to enjoy benefits of higher education comparable to other states. Three pieces of evidence will be more than sufficient to support this proposition.

Figure 1-4 shows again that education and income levels track together, but it adds an interesting dimension. It shows where all the 50 states fall on both measures. Arkansas is found in the lower left corner, which indicates low levels of education and low levels of income.

Figure 1-4 Relationship Between Educational Attainment and Personal Income

Figure 1-5 presents a similar picture in regard to education and health among the 50 states. It thus documents one of the private benefits listed in the Array of Higher Education Benefits—”improved health/life expectancy.” With better health there is “decreased reliance on government financial support,” one of the public benefits. Again, Arkansas is found in the lower left corner, which indicates low levels of education and low levels of healthiness in the state.

Figure 1-5 Relationship Between Educational Attainment and Health

A final piece of evidence: A significant study issued by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education in 2001 clinched the argument that Arkansas needs to increase the number of Arkansans holding a baccalaureate degree. In addition to showing that the people of the state would be healthier, the report stated that “if the 2.5 million Arkansans had the average education of the U.S. and the consequent average income, the Gross State Product would be about $21 billion more….Another way of saying this is that the average Arkansan, or the average Arkansas family, would have a standard of living about 33% higher.” [1]

The Role of UALR

The report which follows will not offer the familiar litany of negative comparisons of Arkansas with other states. Nonetheless, it is important to be aware of the state’s relative standing and the resulting challenges faced by the state’s colleges and universities in preparing citizens of the state to live and work in the 21st Century.

The rest of this report explores the role that the University of Arkansas at Little Rock must play and then presents a plan that will enable the university to play that role.

UALR from the beginning has had the advantage of place, which means it also has the responsibilities of place. It is located in the heart of Little Rock/North Little Rock urban center of the state, along with two other public institutions of higher education—the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Pulaski Technical College. Among the three, UALR is the only comprehensive university, which means it will have a broader role going forward than either of the other two, with whom it will have complementary relationships.

UALR Fast Forward

UALR is frequently called an emerging university, an apt description.

Although UALR in many respects “has arrived,” it is not yet what the state needs today in the capital city—nor what the state has needed for a number of decades, as a reading of missed opportunities that are recounted later in this report will show.

Arkansas is playing catch-up. UALR has a critical role to play in that state effort and is also playing catch-up. The vision and plan found in the following pages will fast-forward the university to a level of development that is overdue.

Notes

  1. “Student Success: Graduation and Retention in Arkansas,” Arkansas Department of Higher Education, July 2001. (Research and Analysis by Robert Johnston, Associate Director. Recommendations by Lu Hardin, Director.) See page 13. Another report, Miles to Go: Arkansas, issued in 2002 by the Southern Education Foundation, provided evidence that persons with bachelor’s degrees, as compared with those with lower levels of education, live longer, are less likely to be unemployed, are less likely to be overweight, are less likely to be on welfare, are more likely to vote, and are more likely to help others.