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JIM PURCELL IS LEAVING HIS position as director of Arkansas' Department of Higher Education to come Louisiana's chief of higher ed. Arkansas' loss is Louisiana's gain. We liked and, more importantly, respected Purcell. Leading the Higher Education Department in this state is something akin to herding cats. The department, its head and the agency's Coordinating Board have little real authority over the state's 11 public universities and 22 public two-year colleges, many of which have their own lobbyists who jealously advance their causes in the state Legislature.

During Purcell's watch--and with the backing of Gov. Mike Beebe--the department created the Universal Scholarship Application, which consolidated 21 different applications into one, greatly simplifying the process 'and making it easier for students to find potential financial aid.

Also during his tenure, which began in 2008, the department gave out the first of thousands of lottery scholarships. The process was not without problems--applications overwhelmed the agency--but the department oversaw the awarding of 30,575 fall 2010 Academic Challenge Scholarships at two-year and four-year institutions across Arkansas. This in a state that desperately needs to raise its level of college graduates.

In addition, Purcell is to be commended for his emphasis on one, ending what he called the academic "arms race" among the state's colleges in their competition for the best students, and two, making higher education more affordable for students. We're not sure much progress was made on the collegiate arms race, but Purcell at least shined light on the problems.

Purcell will get something close to a $90,000 pay raise in the Louisiana job. We suspect he'll earn it.

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Title Annotation:Arkansas Department of Higher Education
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Feb 28, 2011
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