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Going Back To School - State TANF Program Gives Clients Access to Higher Education, Better Jobs

TANF in Arkansas - Going Back to School (Story) ImageIt’s true: The more you learn, the more you earn.

In the fall of 2011, the Department of Labor reported high school dropouts had a 13.8 percent unemployment rate, while their peers who graduated from college had only a 4.4 percent joblessness rate—a dramatic difference.  College graduates also earned lifetime incomes two to four times that of those who end their education with high school.

Recognizing that a more educated workforce benefits not just the worker but the whole community, Arkansas directed social services offices to collaborate with the education system to get the unemployed into college to learn new skills.

The need was evident--Arkansas ranks 49th in per capita income. Only 29 percent of all 18 to 24 year old Arkansans are enrolled in college; low-income young adults are twice as likely not to attend college, according to the state.

The state saw an opportunity to use TANF funds for work-related services to address this problem.  Thus, with the help of private and public sector leaders, the Arkansas Careers Pathways Initiative was formed. The program has identified more than 300 pathways to local high-wage, high-demand job categories. Unemployed Arkansans are being prepared for good careers in such fields as manufacturing, health care and social assistance, transportation and warehousing, professional and technical services, and management of companies and enterprises.

TANF clients, along with others who receive food stamps and social services, are eligible for the program.  Along with academic and vocational preparation, the program includes tutoring, counseling, and outreach to help students succeed. tutoring, counseling and community outreach.
The results have been impressive. In 2009, 25 Arkansas Careers Pathways Initiative sites assisted 9,397 enrolled students, 3,018 of whom were new enrollees. The Initiative awarded 5,055 certificates/degrees. Around 58 percent of those certificate/degree holders were employed within six months.