All five of the state's largest universities have announced tuition increases for the 2014-2015 academic year. Those schools include University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (5%), Arkansas Tech University (4.8%), University of Arkansas at Little Rock (4.7%), University of Central Arkansas (3.86%), and Arkansas State University (2.8%). These new numbers are leaving a lot of students and potential students asking the question of what's being done to help lower these costs.
Three months from now, Arkansas voters will head to the polls to decide the state's next governor. In about three weeks, though, students will head back to class and -- this time -- they'll pay even more for that coveted college degree.
"When I was in the state senate, the state was funding about 70% of higher ed," said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross. "Today, it's around 50 percent, maybe in some instances lower than -- in the 40s I believe."
Arkansas' gubernatorial candidates, Ross and Republican Asa Hutchinson, may differ on their plans for making college more affordable, but both agree it's a problem in need of a solution -- a solution they say starts with the state.
"Every time that some one increases another program or cuts a tax without paying for it, it's higher education that gets a haircut," said Ross.
"It's been flat-lined in recent years, and we certainly don't want that reduced," adds Hutchinson, who also wants to see more innovations from universities, like the University of Arkansas' four-year online degree program with a total cost of around $15,000. He says this kind of approach will cultivate competition and bring down the price.
"I want our four-year colleges in Arkansas to realize that students have a choice, and they're going to go where they get a good education and where it's affordable," said Hutchinson, a former congressman from Arkansas' Third District.
Both men see alternative education as a postive pathway forward, but Ross, who describes himself as the "Education Governor", says more guidance early on is needed.
"One of the things I want to do as governor is put out a focus report in the 8th grade and 11th grade that says here's the year you would graduate trade school. Here's the year you would graduate college," said Ross. "Here's the top twenty fields and what they pay so our young people can make an informed decision about the career path they should take."
Staying on the high school front, Hutchinson wants to emphasize computer science education at that level, which he says will benefit students, the universities and the state's economy.
"You do that, you create a new dynamic where our two and four-year colleges elevate their game in technology," adds Hutchinson. "Those are great job opportunities, but also will be job creators for the future as well. Arkansas can actually lead in technology education and performance."
Both Ross and Hutchinson have their work cut out for them when it comes to lowering the cost of a college education, and though it's not the only issue facing Arkansans as election night approaches, it could wind up being the one that shapes our state for years to come.
Learn more about Ross's plan HERE.
Learn more about Hutchinson's plan HERE.