State Capitol
Little Rock, AR 72201


Little Rock -- Nov. 25 -- Gov. Mike Huckabee has appointed 15 Arkansans to the recently formed Blue Ribbon Committee for Higher Education. The committee will make recommendations to the governor and the Legislature for improving colleges and universities in Arkansas.

Phil Ford of West Memphis, an insurance executive and the chairman of the state Higher Education Coordinating Board, will serve as the chairman of the committee.

Other members Huckabee named to the committee are Hugh McDonald of Little Rock, the chief executive officer of Entergy Arkansas; Anna Lorena Hart of Springdale, who specializes in multicultural community relations for Tyson Foods Inc.; Jerry Adams of Conway, the corporate citizenship and community relations leader for the Acxiom Corp.; James Hendren of Little Rock, an entrepreneur in the area of knowledge-based industries; Rick Izor of Arkadelphia, the general manager of Scroll Technologies; Scott Ford of Little Rock, the chief executive officer of the Alltel Corp; Kathy White of Magnolia, who's associated with the Horizon Institute of Technology; Jay Chesshir of Hot Springs, the president of the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce; Mina Baledge of Fayetteville, a parent and homemaker; former state Sen. Stanley Russ of Conway; Reynie Rutledge of Searcy, the chairman of First Security Bancorp; Ted Suor of Forth Smith, the owner of Stonebridge Transportation Inc.; Charles Stewart of Little Rock, the community investment manager for Regions Bank; and Jeff Hankins of Little Rock, the president of the Arkansas Business Publishing Group.

Linda Beene, the director of the state Department of Higher Education, will serve as an ex-officio member of the committee.

The governor said the panel will examine the higher education systems of other states before proposing steps to improve higher education in Arkansas. Topics on which the committee will focus include college participation rates, graduation rates, retention rates, research, funding, diversity and economic development.

Huckabee said he would like recommendations from the panel to be presented within six months. Monthly meetings will begin next month.

"We've brought together some of the top minds in our state to determine how the system of higher education should be structured," the governor said. "As our effort for public school education reform produces better high school graduates, more Arkansans than ever will be entering the state's colleges and universities. My hope is that this group will come up with a blueprint for what must be done to improve the quality, funding and accountability of higher education. We need to increase the number of students who enter college and then we must dramatically improve college retention rates. We're held back economically as a state by the fact that we're basically tied with West Virginia for having the lowest percentage of residents in the country with a bachelor's degree.

"We must increase the number of college graduates in strategic areas such as math, science and teaching. We also must find ways to encourage and improve university-based research. One of the best things we've done as a state is to devote part of the money from the tobacco lawsuit settlement to research. For each state dollar we put into research, we obtain additional dollars in the form of federal grants and private funding. We must now take that effort to the next level. I like to point to North Carolina as an example we can follow. Years ago, the leaders of that state realized the textile and tobacco industries were in decline. They made a decision to place an emphasis on research, and that decision has paid off."

Huckabee said the Blue Ribbon Committee for Higher Education should also find ways to strengthen the ties between businesses in Arkansas and the system of higher education.

"We must face the reality of a highly competitive world economy," he said. "We must develop a workforce equipped with lifelong learning skills. The job market of the 21st century requires graduates who are not only educated in the traditional sense but who also possess leadership, problem-solving and communications skills."