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Is there a doctorate in the house?

Arkansas Trails Neighboring States In The Per Capita Production Of Ph.D.s

Five neighboring states are producing far more doctoral graduates than Arkansas, according to a study titled "Too Few Graduates."

Lee Gordon, a product of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville's doctoral program, compiled the statistics.

The evidence he gathered will confront the Legislature in January when the focus of educational reform likely will begin to shift from secondary education to higher education.

Gordon, a higher education liaison 18 years ago for then-Gov. Dale Bumpers, now serves as executive director of Arkansas Literacy Councils Inc.

What is Gordon suggesting that state leaders do about the doctoral disparity?

"I'm not sure I'm advocating anything," says Gordon, a native of Muskogee, Okla. "The easy part is presenting the facts about how far out of line we are with our neighbors."

Those facts are compelling.

Arkansas ranked last in a six-state comparison of doctoral degrees granted during 1990. Gordon's study didn't include doctorates in medicine, law, veterinary medicine, optometry and similar disciplines. It also didn't include Texas.

For the year, Arkansas produced 5.74 doctoral grads per 100,000 residents.

The per capita graduation rate for surrounding states was:

* Oklahoma, 12.78. * Tennessee, 11.48. * Missouri, 11.16. * Mississippi, 11.15. * Louisiana, 9.03.

The average of the five states almost doubled the Arkansas rate.

Gordon doesn't assign blame for the state's poor showing.

He also doesn't presume that doctoral parity with neighboring states will solve Arkansas' educational and economic problems.

"The concern, however, is that Arkansans are deluding themselves about the state's competitiveness in the higher education arena," Gordon writes. "The goal of this study is to inform those who have a role in making policy and, hopefully, to initiate long-term reform."

Part of that reform involves changing the historical mind set toward money and higher education in Arkansas. The key, Gordon believes, is throwing off the low self-esteem and defeatist mentality that Arkansas is cash poor and can only afford to do so much.

"Higher education has never been a priority," Gordon says. "We've never placed the emphasis on higher education that other states have. It's cultural and a habit we need to break."

The state's political leaders often have viewed doctoral programs with a degree of economic fatalism. They questioned why the state should provide programs if most Ph.D.s would end up leaving Arkansas for career advancement. Or, conversely, they claimed there was a low demand by Arkansas employers for those with advanced degrees, meaning out-of-state schools should foot the bill.

Doctoral Distribution

The task of providing doctoral programs was assigned to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, although other schools now will be allowed to pursue areas of opportunity based on regional demands.

The Fayetteville campus' favored status long has been a source of political and academic contention.

"Fayetteville isn't a fundamental part of the problem," Gordon says. "The problem is funding and the overall size of the pie."

The Legislature is in charge of slicing up servings of that fiscal pie.

State Sen. George Hopkins of Malvern, who serves on the Senate Education Committee, is among those interested in the subject.

"We need to make sure that, No. 1, it's a quality program and, No. 2, that we spread the programs geographically throughout the state ... to allow access," Hopkins says.

Nestled in the northwest corner of the state, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville is far removed from much of the population.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock, which is only a short commute for more than a third of the state's population, is an obvious choice for expanded doctoral programs.

"I support the move by various schools to upgrade and broaden their programs," Hopkins says. "If they come to the Legislature with a proposal, the Legislature is more prepared to address that."

That increased willingness to help can be attributed in part to the growing clout of education lobbyists.

It is not uncommon to see politically astute education leaders such as Dan Ferritor, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, and Charles Dunn, president of Henderson State University at Arkadelphia, prowling the corridors of the Capitol and bending the ears of legislators.

"It's true that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and education has learned to squeak very well," Hopkins says.

Growing higher education enrollment also has helped bring pressure on the Legislature. During the past five years, enrollment at public colleges and universities in Arkansas has increased by 23.4 percent.

The growth rate is 22.3 percent for the same period once private schools of higher education are factored in.

Why hasn't the Legislature done more to support the state's doctoral programs?

"It's pretty clear why we haven't," Hopkins says. "Limited resources have been focused in other areas. We've focused so much on secondary education in the past. But in the next session, I believe you'll see more focus on higher education issues."

Doctoral Demographics: Degrees Awarded In 1990

Arkansas: 5.74 doctoral graduates per 100,000 residents. University of Arkansas, Fayetteville -- 135.

Oklahoma: 12.78 doctoral graduates per 100,000 residents.

Oklahoma State University, Stillwater -- 229. University of Oklahoma, Norman -- 146. University of Tulsa -- 27.

Tennessee: 11.48 doctoral graduates per 100,000 residents. University of Tennessee, Knoxville -- 214. Vanderbilt University, Nashville -- 212. Memphis State University -- 83. Tennessee State University, Nashville -- 17. East Tennessee State University, Johnson City -- 12. Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro -- 9. Tennessee Tech University, Cookeville -- 8. University of Tennessee at Memphis -- 6.

Missouri: 11.16 doctoral graduates per 100,000 residents. University of Missouri, Columbia -- 236. Washington University, St. Louis -- 138. St. Louis University -- 92. University of Missouri, Rolla -- 52. University of Missouri, Kansas City -- 30. University of Missouri, St. Louis -- 23.

Mississippi: 11.15 doctoral graduates per 100,000 residents. Mississippi State University, Starkville -- 101. University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg -- 84. University of Mississippi, Oxford -- 80. University of Mississippi Medical Sciences Center, Jackson -- 14.(*) Delta State University, Cleveland -- 4. Jackson State University -- 4.

Louisiana: 9.03 doctoral graduates per 100,000 residents. Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge -- 213. Tulane University, New Orleans -- 66. University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette -- 38. Louisiana State University Medical Center, New Orleans -- 25.(*) University of New Orleans -- 20. Louisiana Tech University, Ruston -- 10. Northeast Louisiana University, Monroe -- 3. Northwestern State University, Natchitoches -- 3. Southern University, Baton Rouge -- 3.

* -- Includes only non-medical doctorates.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; Arkansas produces fewer doctoral degrees compared to its neighboring states
Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Aug 3, 1992
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