Holt began by listing some of Hope’s claims to fame. “Hope and Hempstead County are known for some wonderful things. There’s the annual watermelon festival that we just celebrated in August. We’re also known for producing governors and the U.S. president. I don’t think any other place in Arkansas can challenge that.”
Then she announced the good news for the county’s seniors. “We are making a pledge to Hempstead County that graduates from high schools in Hempstead County can attend UAHT at zero cost for their first year. That's right, we have developed a scholarship called the Hempstead Guarantee. That scholarship will allow high school students beginning with the class of 2024 from Blevins to Garrett Memorial to Hope and Spring Hill to attend UAHT free during the first year of college.”
Holt showed some projected slides on a screen to the right of her podium. To take advantage of the offer, students must 1) graduate from a high school in Hempstead County, Arkansas; 2) complete the Arkansas scholarship application; 3) complete the Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) and submit all documents by May 31, 2024; 4) enroll in at least 12 credit hours for the fall semester by June 30, 2024.
Students from those four schools must take 12 credit hours each semester and earn 27 credit hours in their first year of college. If they do, their tuition, fees and book rentals are covered by the scholarship. By participating in the scholarship, students also become eligible for the $3,000 scholarship for their sophomore year. In addition, through the students who transfer to the University of Arkansas Fayetteville would be charged the cost of attending UAHT rather than UA-F.
Holt said sessions for students and parents interested in the Hempstead Guarantee would take place on UAHT’s campus and at the eligible schools. Help will also be available on filling in the Arkansas Scholarship application and the FAFSA.
The Hempstead Guarantee, Holt said, represents a minimum savings of $3,606 a year compared to paying for full tuition, fees and books at UAHT and $10,644 in savings compared to paying for tuition, fees and books at an Arkansas public four-year university.
Present at the announcement were Donald R. Bobbitt, University of Arkansas System President; Jeffrey Steed, Superintendent of Spring Hill Schools; Jonathan Crossley, Superintendent of Hope Public Schools, Christi Zumwalt, Administrator of Garrett Memorial Christian School and Stephanie Dixon, Superintendent of Blevins Public Schools. Holt introduced each of them and the superintendents each testified to the value of the scholarship for their schools.
President Bobbitt recognized the presence of UA System Vice President and former UACCH and UAHT Chancellor Chris Thomason as well as that of UA System Trustee Colonel Nathan Todd. He said that while undocumented students were not eligible for the Hempstead Guarantee, they would not be left out of consideration for support. “The UAHT Foundation will provide scholarships for these students. I personally believe it is very meaningful, that these students will be supported in this manner. These students and their families reside in our communities. They are friends and neighbors and, given the state's historically low unemployment rate, it is difficult to justify ignoring such talent,” Bobbitt said.
Dixon said, “It’s a huge investment in our city. If you look where Blevins is located, we're way on the outskirts of the city. It's hard for our students to conceptualize what higher education is … We have a motto in our administration of ‘Whatever it takes’ and UAHT has matched that energy.”
Zumwalt, who worked at UAHT for ten years and who has one son who graduated from there and a daughter currently attending, said “our school that she mentioned is the one that nearly has 100 percent college attendance rate. And we really worked very hard to get our students to attend college, wherever their heart desires. We do offer concurrent classes with them now. They're the only school that we've worked with … We are extremely grateful, because it offers us a little bit of an advantage in that a lot of our students come from neighboring counties that would have had to pay out of county tuition, and because they attend a Hempstead County school, we're now in that group that gets to participate wholly in this program.”
Next was Crossley to speak about what the scholarship will mean to Hope Public Schools: “Dr. Holt and the UAHT board has stepped up in a monumental way here to make sure, just what it says a guarantee, is possible. If students born inside of our county go to our school system, they can truly take advantage of every opportunity where 88 percent of our students receive free or reduced lunch, which is not a small thing across our state where the average is about 64 to 65 percent. And yet, they will be outperforming their peers with this opportunity.”
Finally, Steed spoke of the impact the scholarship will have on Spring Hill students: “You're allowing them opportunities to attend college free of charge, as long as they're willing to meet the minimum requirements. That is something that not every county in the state of Arkansas can say.”
During a press availability afterwards in the Blevins Suite, Holt explained how the Hempstead Guarantee developed. “We actually hired a consultant, and we started brainstorming, what are some things that we can do, because we want to make a difference, we want to make sure that we're meeting the needs of the community? And this came out of that process.” From there committees met to consider the practical side of offering the scholarship.
Funding, said Holt, came from UAHT budget reallocations and amounts raised by the UAHT Foundation. “And then of course, we're always looking for opportunities. So if there are donors out there whou would love to support this, we would welcome that opportunity as well.”
Asked what today meant to him, Crossley said, “Just momentum and true progress, the feeling that we're heading in the right direction together. We have a vision set out for what we want to see with our students, and UAHT has been just such a champion for Hempstead County and for students and public schools. And to me, this is really putting your money where your mouth is, so to speak, for all of our kids to be successful. So we're really happy.”
Dixon said she is gratified about what students will be able to contribute to their communities when they return from school. Zumwalt said during the presentation she thought of the unity of purpose among herself and her fellow participants. “This is a wonderful way that we partner together as schools and then with the college to make a huge impact on this area,” she said.
Jeffrey Steed said, “When they first proposed this to us, we actually signed the letter of intent that day. It was something that the staff didn't even need to discuss. It's an excellent opportunity for all graduating seniors. They’ve got the opportunity to expand their education go in to train in some type of field that their interested in, whether it be HVAC, plumbing, construction, whatever it may be, but it provides them all that opportunity now without having the financial barriers to find them.”