What do you think of when you think of Arkansas? You may think of its abundance of natural resources such as its hot springs, gemstones and coal. In fact, Arkansas is the only state in the country to actively mine diamonds, which makes the state very unique.

Arkansas is unique for more than just its natural resources though. The state and the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE) do a very good job of helping its residents receive a higher education by offering ample amounts of financial aid to help them afford to attend college or training programs to help residents further their careers.

There are many good financial aid programs in the state for which students can apply, but some of the most popular programs include the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship, the Arkansas Future Grant, the Arkansas Workforce Challenge, the Governor’s Distinguished Scholarship and the Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund.

Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship

The Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship (ACS) is the largest financial aid program in Arkansas as it is essentially open to any and all students in the state, regardless of their academic status or year in school.

The ACS is funded by the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery and is broken into two categories for traditional (incoming freshmen) students and nontraditional students.

Despite being separated into two categories, there is common ground when it comes to eligibility for both sides. To be eligible for either type of scholarship, a student must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident;
  • Be an Arkansas resident for at least 12 months prior to enrollment;
  • Be accepted at an approved institution of higher education in a program of study that leads to a bachelor’s degree, an associate degree, a qualified certificate or a nursing school diploma;
  • Have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree;
  • Complete and file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), though there is no maximum income restriction for eligibility;
  • Not owe a refund on a federal or state college financial aid grant;
  • Not be in default on a federal or state college financial aid award;
  • Not have borrowed in excess of annual federal loan limits;
  • Not be jailed at the time of the student’s application or during the time the student receives the scholarship; and
  • Certify the student is drug-free.

For a traditional student to be initially eligible for the ACS, a student must also:

  • Enroll as a full-time student each fall and spring semester,
    • Complete at least 12 credit hours during the fall semester immediately following high school graduation,
    • Complete at least 15 credit hours in each of the following semesters;
  • Have graduated from an Arkansas public or private high school or an out-of-state high school; and
  • Have scored at least a 19 on the ACT.

The ACS is a renewable award and a student can receive funds from it until they have earned a bachelor’s degree, attempted a total of 120 credit hours or have received eight full semesters of ACS funding.

To renew an ACS award, a traditional student must:

  • Maintain at least a cumulative 2.50 GPA on a 4.00 scale;
  • Complete 27 credit hours (12 in the fall, 15 in the spring) during their first academic year and 30 credit hours (15 in the fall, 15 in the spring) each academic year afterwards;
  • Complete any and all remedial courses during the first 30 credit hours taken after receiving the award;
  • Be continuously enrolled as a full-time student at an approved postsecondary institution; and
  • Be enrolled in courses leading towards a bachelor’s degree after having earned an associate degree or have less than four semesters left to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Nontraditional students have different initial and continuing eligibility criteria that involves other academic and test score requirements.

If a student is selected as a recipient for an ACS award, they can receive:

  • $1,000 during their first year at either a four-year college or a two-year college;
  • $4,000 during their second year at a four-year college or $3,000 during their second year at a two-year college;
  • $4,000 during their third year at a four-year college; and
  • $5,000 during their fourth year at a four-year college.

Arkansas Future Grant

The Arkansas Future Grant (ArFuture) is the newest grant program created by the ADHE to help affordably increase the education and skill levels of the Arkansas workforce in areas such as STEM-fields (science, technology, engineering and math) and other regional high-demand areas of study.

The grant is given out on a first-come, first-served basis, so it is important for students to apply for it as soon as they possibly can.

To be initially eligible for the ArFuture Grant, a student must:

  • Be a high school graduate by way of:
    • Graduating from an Arkansas public or private high school, home school program or received a GED approved by the Department of Career Education OR
    • Verifying the student has resided in Arkansas for three years immediately preceding the student submitting their application and has graduated from an out-of-state public or private high school, home school program or has earned a GED;
  • Be enrolled as a part-time or full-time student at an approved postsecondary institution in a program of study leading to an associate degree or certification in a STEM-field or regional high-demand field; and
  • Complete and file FAFSA.

If a student is chosen as a recipient of the grant, they will receive funding to cover their tuition and mandatory fees for qualifying certificate and/or associate degree programs at eligible Arkansas public postsecondary institutions. The amount the grant covers will also be what is left to pay after other financial aid is taken into consideration.

Additionally, a recipient of the grant must enter into a written agreement with the ADHE to promise to:

  • Receive monthly mentoring from a mentor from an organization determined by the ADHE,
  • Complete at least ten hours of community service each semester a student receives grant funds, and
  • Reside in Arkansas for three consecutive years and be employed within six months of graduating with an associate degree or certificate.

If a student fails to meet the stipulations in the written agreement, the grant turns into a loan with interest in which the student will need to pay back.

The ArFuture Grant is a renewable award as well. A student can receive funding from it until they:

  • Earn an associate degree,
  • Receive funding for five full semesters,
  • Fail to maintain satisfactory academic progress according to the student’s school, or
  • Fail to complete the mentoring and/or community service requirements of the grant.

Arkansas Workforce Challenge

The Arkansas Workforce Challenge is designed to help train students in high-demand areas of study such as healthcare, information technology and industry.

The program was created in 2017 by the Arkansas Legislature and is funded by revenue from the Arkansas Lottery.

To be eligible for the program, a student must:

  • Be an Arkansas resident,
  • Be a high school graduate or have a GED,
  • Be accepted into an ADHE-approved program, and
  • Not be receiving funding from the ACS.

An eligible student must apply for the program at least 30 days prior to enrolling into their desired academic program. The academic programs can be credit-bearing programs or non-credit training classes.

The funds from the program will cover the cost of a certificate program or program of study for up to $800. The award is non-renewable, though if a student completes the academic program and then applies for the grant again to use for a different academic program, they can be eligible to receive funding again.

Governor’s Distinguished Scholarship

The Governor’s Distinguished Scholarship is a very competitive academic award.

To be eligible for the scholarship, a student must:

  • Earn at least a 32 on the ACT or at least a combined 1410 math and critical reasoning score on the SAT,
  • Earn at least a 3.50 GPA on a 4.00 scale or be selected as a National Achievement Finalist or National Merit Finalist,
  • Be enrolled in at least 12 credit hours for the fall semester of their freshman year, and
  • Be enrolled in at least 15 credit hours for each semester afterwards.

The award is not need-based, so it is not required for students to file FAFSA to be eligible.

As long as funding allows, there can be up to 375 Governor’s Distinguished Scholars selected in a given academic year.

A recipient of the scholarship can receive up to $10,000 per academic year to cover tuition, mandatory fees, and room and board at their chosen college.

The scholarship is renewable and a student can receive funds from it for three additional years after their first year. To maintain eligibility for the award, a student must:

  • Earn at least a 3.25 GPA on a 4.00 scale at the end of each academic year,
  • Complete 27 credit hours (12 in the fall, 15 in the spring) after their first academic year, and
  • Complete 30 credit hours (15 in the fall, 15 in the spring) in each of the following academic years.

If a student does not meet the renewal requirements, the scholarship will be revoked and will not be reinstated later.

Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund

The Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund (ASPSF) is a program designed to help single parents go back to school to earn a degree or certificate.

To be eligible for the program, an applicant must:

  • Be a legal U.S. resident,
  • Be an Arkansas resident or Bowie County, Texas-resident,
  • Be a single parent as defined by:
    • Marital Status:  Someone who is single (never married, widowed, divorced, or legally separated) or someone who is married but living apart and the divorce will be final by the time the scholarship is awarded.
    • Parenting Status:  Someone who is the custodial parent/guardian with physical custody (50% of the time or more) of at least one dependent child (a child who is 18 years old or younger, a child who is 18 years old or older but still in high school, or a severely disabled adult living with and is dependent on the applicant).
    • Living Status:  The applicant is the only adult living in the home with the child(ren), the applicant lives with their parents or relative(s) with their child(ren), or the applicant lives with a roommate who is not the applicant’s partner/significant other/co-parent with their child(ren).
  • Apply in the county in which the applicant is living,
  • Have a high school diploma or GED,
  • Have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree,
  • Have previously earned at least a cumulative 2.00 GPA in school,
  • Have a household income that is typically not more than 250% of the federal poverty guidelines,
  • Complete and file FAFSA,
  • Attend or plan to attend an ASPSF-approved school or training program, and
  • Be pursuing a degree or certification that leads to employment with family-supporting wages.

To apply for the scholarship, an applicant must:

  • Meet the eligibility criteria,
  • Complete and submit the online application by the deadline,
  • Submit any and all supporting documents by the deadline, and
  • Attend an interview with a local scholarship selection committee.

In 2020, the ASPSF awarded just under 1,700 scholarships totaling $1.5 million in financial aid.

Major Arkansas Colleges and Universities

The Natural State has many higher education institutions to attend including four-year public colleges, two-year public colleges, private colleges and more. Some of the more popular four-year public schools include:

  • Arkansas State University in Jonesboro,
  • Arkansas Tech University in Russellville,
  • Henderson State University in Arkadelphia,
  • Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia,
  • University of Arkansas in Fayetteville (main campus), and
  • University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

The University of Arkansas also has campuses in Fort Smith, Little Rock, Monticello and Pine Bluff.

Residents within the 53,179 sq. miles of Arkansas’ borders should be thrilled knowing there are so many different college financial aid programs available in their state to help them afford to receive a higher education.