JONESBORO, Ark. — Kyler Daniels has not yet graduated from Walnut Ridge High School, but the 19-year-old is already working as a certified nursing assistant. He has also earned needed certifications to work in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).
For the past two years, Daniels has taken advantage of electives offered at his school’s partner, the Northeast Arkansas Career and Technical School. He said it has allowed him to earn more than minimum wage, which allows him to better support himself and prepare to support his unborn child.
“There is a higher demand for hands-on jobs, and I’m a hands-on person,” said Daniels, who, upon graduating, hopes to get a job on a boat on the Mississippi River. “It’s given me something I can fall back on.”
Daniels is for any opportunity that helps students make something of themselves. That’s why he believes the Arkansas Future Grant (ArFuture) is a “great idea.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed ArFuture into law on March 2. It took effect immediately, and will provide up to two years of tuition and fees at an Arkansas public community or technical college for students enrolling in a high-demand field of study or a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field. Examples are computer science or welding.
The first grants will be available for the upcoming school year, the Jonesboro Sun reported.
“I think it is good way to get people to come into those fields because if school is free, why not?” he said. “It’s a good opportunity for anyone; especially anyone seeking good employment in a field they can make a decent living and not struggle.”
However, Daniels said if an individual takes advantage of the free tuition and fees, then there needs to be requirements in place to ensure they actually go to work afterward. If not, the state needs to be repaid.
ArFuture is set up to require all grant recipients to participate in a mentor program and a community service program. Also, upon graduation, the student must work full-time in Arkansas for a minimum of three years.
The grant would be converted into a loan for repayment to the state if a student does not fulfill those requirements.
The state-funded grant will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. It will be funded by redirecting $8.2 million in general funds from the Workforce Improvement Grant (WIG) and the Arkansas Higher Education Opportunities Grant, or Go! Grant.
WIG is a need-based grant that helped non-traditional students, age 24 or older who might not be eligible for assistance from traditional state and federal programs, to return to school. The Go! Grant is awarded based on financial need to help low-income students complete their college degree.
Brookland senior Dylan Johnson believes “it is a good thing they are going to provide free schooling,” although he is not completely sold on the grant idea.
“I’m not for it being free, but I guess if they really need people in those areas …,” he said. “If they need people in that area they should encourage them and maybe cut the price in half.”
Johnston, 18, has already been accepted into Black River Technical College to study criminal justice. He said Black River is a good location for him, and he has gotten great reviews from family members who have attended the technical college. He said it is better for people to work hard to earn an award.
“Like in life, if you get a D on a test, you deserve that grade. You should have studied,” he said. “Everything in life should not be free, but earned.”