Independence County Scholarship Program Helps High School Students Get a Head Start on Higher Education

Austin Simmons, a senior at Cedar Ridge High School, is taking an introductory English class at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB). Like many other high school students, Austin has looked forward to attending college, but its considerable price tag has been a source of financial stress for his family.

Luckily, Independence County – a ForwARd Community – has unveiled a new scholarship program to make college courses and career training more accessible for high school students. The Independence Promise allows students like Austin to take the same classes they would otherwise take at a four-year institution ahead of time for significantly less money. The program also allows students to gain experience with college-level coursework, which can help prepare them for the rigor of higher education.

“The Independence Promise has helped me get one step closer to achieving my college dreams,” says Simmons. “Because my family can start paying for my education now for less money, it definitely takes some of the stress off of our shoulders.”

The Independence Promise Scholarship Program lessens the financial burden of higher education through a model funded primarily by scholarships from the Independence County Public Education Foundation. Not only does the program provide students with educational opportunities outside their high school classrooms, it aims to improve the educational motivation of students overall.

“We see this as an opportunity to not only invest in higher educational attainment for our emerging workforce, but also to provide some deeper engagement for students who struggle with planning for their future in the last years of high school and may become unmotivated or even drop out as a result,” says Dr. Brian Shonk, Chair of the Independence County Public Education Foundation. “This gives them something to get excited for and a change of pace and place that directly relates to their future.”

Though Simmons has an idea of what he wants to study in school – Bible and Family Ministry – taking that English course at UACCB might open his eyes to an undiscovered passion. Or, it might just be a way to gain college credit in pursuit of his career plan. Either way, the Independence Promise places students on a track for increased educational attainment. Not only will this lead to a more educated workforce and higher earnings for graduates, it means a greater disposable income for local families and a strengthened local economy.

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