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Last year 28,295 seniors graduated from Arkansas high schools and 63.4 percent of them went on to attend an Arkansas college or university in the fall.

That percentage is slightly lower than the previous year, when 64.7 percent of Arkansas high school graduates enrolled in college.

Legislators, higher education officials and business leaders pay close attention to college attendance and graduation rates. It affects the quality of life in Arkansas and the state's economy. It is well known that regions with the most college graduates also have the best jobs and the healthiest local economy.

Arkansas is very close to the national average in the proportion of high school graduates who go on to college. The national average is 67.2 percent.

Since the 1991-1992 school year, the average cost of college tuition and fees has gone up by 275 percent at Arkansas universities, and by 272 percent at Arkansas two-year colleges. Some legislators have expressed concern that if tuition continues to increase so steeply, the value of lottery scholarships will be diminished.

In many ways South Carolina is the model for the Arkansas lottery scholarship program. According to the South Carolina Policy Council, after voters in that state approved a lottery scholarship program in 2000, the cost of college tuition has risen by an average of 13 percent a year at the state's two major institutions of higher education - Clemson and the University of South Carolina.

In the 10 years before the lottery in South Carolina was estab

lished, tuition at the two major universities rose by an average of

4 percent a year.

The recent, steep increases in tuition in South Carolina have

coincided with a decrease in state appropriations to higher ed

ucation. Therefore it can be argued that the lottery scholarships

merely replaced, rather than supplemented, traditional sources

of revenue for higher education.

However you look at it, according to the South Carolina Pol

icy Council, college students in that state now pay more out of

their own pockets for tuition than they did before the lottery was

created. The Policy Council is a conservative think tank.

The amounts of lottery scholarships in Arkansas will depend

on how many lottery tickets are sold.

Payday lenders gone from Arkansas

A spokesman for the state Attorney General's office announced

that payday lending companies no longer do business in Arkansas.

The Supreme Court had ruled that payday loans violated the Con

stitution's prohibition against usury, and the attorney general was in

strumental in convincing the loan companies that leaving Arkansas

was preferable to litigation.

They also are known as check cashing companies. Typically, the

borrower would write a check for $300 and the loan company would

hand over $250 in cash. The company would wait until the bor

rower's payday before cashing the check.

The interest rate on the short-term loans could exceed 300 per

cent, and if a borrower fell behind on payments, it would be even

higher.

A few years ago, more than 200 payday loan companies operated

in Arkansas. The attorney general's office estimates that payday lend

ing companies were collecting $25 million a year in interest.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding legislative issues,

please contact me at HendrenK@arkleg.state.ar.us or at telephone

number 479-787-6500, ext. 30.

Opinion, Pages 5 on 08/19/2009

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