El Dorado, Arkansas, population 18,000, is a small Southern town just north of the Louisiana border. The county seat of Union County, El Dorado, known as ‘The Original Boomtown’ has an interesting history, closely tied to the oil and timber industries. El Dorado was a bustling boomtown in the 1920s and enjoyed continued growth through the 1950s. The area has a very strong historical industrial base but was impacted by globalization and the declining economy in the 1980s, resulting in lost population. However, the city remained strong through economic downturns. It ranks 2nd of the 75 counties in Arkansas in per capita personal income and 29th of 576 counties in surrounding states. El Dorado has a large industrial workforce, and is also home to three NYSE-traded companies. 

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One of those companies is Murphy Oil Corporation, an international oil and gas company which has had its corporate headquarters in El Dorado since its inception in 1950, although its roots go back to the 1920s. 

Murphy has been a strong community supporter throughout its history, focusing primarily on educational endeavors. It’s founder, Charles H. Murphy, Jr., was described as an educator at heart, even more so than a businessman. He believed, “with good education, people are more productive. To educate people is good business.” 

Murphy’s Board of Directors continued the belief of the transformative power of education. Enrollment in the district dropped by 10% from 1990 to 2005, and population had been on a steady decline as well, two trends which could be found in all districts in south Arkansas at the time. Murphy, through its philanthropic focus on education, began the Murphy Education Program, an academic incentive program which rewards students in the El Dorado School District for their scores on standardized tests, in 1997. 

In December 2006, Murphy’s Board of Directors was presented with a recommendation for a new education program. Claiborne Deming was President and CEO at the time and presented to the Board the opportunity to fund a program which would have a lasting impact on the graduates of El Dorado High School, a revitalization of the El Dorado School District and potential for renewed economic development for the community. Deming recalls how quickly the Board approved the proposal, “It was the easiest decision we made all day.” The proposal was a $50 million dollar universal scholarship program for the students in the El Dorado School District. It would be called the El Dorado Promise and it promised to change El Dorado. 

Unlike traditional forms of financial aid, the El Dorado Promise is a universal program, which means there are no merit or financial need requirements. The only requirement is to graduate from El Dorado High School, after having been enrolled since at least ninth grade. 

The Announcement

After Murphy’s Board of Directors approved funding for the Promise, the public announcement was made a few weeks later. On January 22, 2007, in the “old” El Dorado High School gym, a crowd of students, teachers, community members and parents gathered for a special assembly. No one knew what the assembly was about or why they had been called there under such mysterious circumstances. When the guests arrived, they realized it was going to be an important announcement. The high school principal, the district superintendent, the President of Murphy Oil and the governor all gathered behind the podium, the crowd waiting anxiously for what they knew would be an impactful message. 
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We have brought you here today to tell you about a special program that will make the El Dorado School District, and those young people who attend its schools, different and unique. Something that gives them an opportunity for post-secondary education that you would not have dreamed or imagined in your lifetime
– Bob Watson, El Dorado Public Schools Superintendent in 2007
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I was in the gym when the announcement was made and I remember looking around and seeing students in tears. They were very emotional, many had tears streaming down their face. It was such an overwhelming, emotional announcement. It was life-changing, really. It was just so unexpected and so much bigger than anyone could have ever imagined 
– Becky Ward, former EHS Counselor