El Dorado Promise Creates College-Going Culture in El Dorado Public Schools

January 22, 2015

Eight years ago 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 its inception, 1,588 students have received Promise scholarship funding.

El Dorado Promise Creates College-Going Culture in El Dorado Public Schools 1

The El Dorado Promise eliminates some of the financial barriers that local students face, allowing them to pursue higher education, many as first-generation college students. The El Dorado Promise scholarship reaches beyond the boundaries of economic need and academic ability to pay up to 100% of college tuition and mandatory fees for all students who graduate from El Dorado High School and have been an El Dorado Public School student since at least the ninth grade. 

Since the announcement of the El Dorado Promise scholarship, the El Dorado School District has worked to ensure that students are prepared to take advantage of this opportunity to further their education. New programs were put in place as early as kindergarten to increase awareness of the Promise and to academically prepare students to enroll in college after high school graduation.

According to the 2015 El Dorado Promise impact report, released today, students and teachers alike have demanded a more rigorous curriculum resulting in dramatic increases in Advanced Placement (AP) course offerings and enrollment. A study by the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas (OEP) on the impact of the El Dorado Promise shows that in 2006, prior to the Promise, about 11% of El Dorado High School students were taking one or more AP tests. By 2014, nearly one quarter of the high school’s population was taking at least one AP course. The study also shows that the number of students taking AP tests has more than doubled since the El Dorado Promise was announced.

Not only are El Dorado students requesting and enrolling in these AP courses, but their test scores also reflect that they are learning the material that will prepare them for college courses. When looking at AP passage rate trends over time, OEP found the percentage of students passing one or more tests has increased or remained steady since 2006, even while the enrollment count for the courses has multiplied. Traditionally, when schools expand access to AP courses the passage rates fall; however, El Dorado has defied this trend and continues to hold a steady pass rate.

The El Dorado Promise has worked with the school district’s own initiatives to create a college-going culture from kindergarten to graduation. Student interest and success in AP courses shows that EHS students are doing their part to academically prepare for their futures as college-bound Promise Scholars. At the 2014 Academic Signing Day event, Bob Watson, who retired in the summer of 2014 as Superintendent of El Dorado Public Schools after a 45-year career in education, praised the students for their hard work. “You have done well. You have stepped up to a more rigorous curriculum,” Watson told the 308 Promise Scholars of 2014. He encouraged the students to take advantage of the El Dorado Promise saying, “You can make this gift (The Promise Scholarship) make a difference in your lives. Be serious about this responsibility. Stand up for what is right. Appreciate those around you. Do more – you’ve been blessed with much.”

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. For 2014-2015, the highest tuition rate in the state was $7,889 for a student taking 30 credit hours per year. El Dorado Promise students are currently enrolled in 64 different colleges and universities and have received degrees from 37 colleges and universities throughout the U.S.

For more detailed information on the latest analysis of the El Dorado Promise impact, see the 2015 Impact Report on www.eldoradopromise.com.