Fueling a Town's Future

The small Arkansas town of El Dorado has experienced an economic rebirth since an oil company offered to pay college tuition and fees for all graduating high school seniors.

"A local oil company had just committed to paying college tuition and fees for all graduating seniors, regardless of their family income or their grades. Then the students – known as "Arkansas Scholars" because they carry intense course loads – cheered and returned to class. Art teacher Patrick Johnson will never forget what happened next:"

"'They walked in and said, 'We're all going to college.' Some of the lower-income students said, 'Well, y'all have fun.' And they said, 'No, we're all going to college. If you graduate, you get to go.''"

"Since that announcement in January 2007, El Dorado, Ark., has seen a renaissance. The percentage of graduating seniors attending college has risen from about 60 percent to 81 percent. Families are moving into the school district to take advantage of the program after decades of population decline. The student body has risen by at least 140 students to more than 4,500, and this year's kindergarten class is 12 percent larger than the last. In 2007, the town passed a property-tax increase to replace its 45-year-old high school and created a local sales tax to fund economic development."

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