Arkansas: College and Career Coaches

The Arkansas College and Career Coach program, formerly known as Arkansas Works, demonstrates the value and potential of quality college and career advisement in middle and high school. Starting as a pilot in high-need, hard-to-reach communities in 2010, the program has gained legislative support over the years and been expanded to reach tens of thousands of students across the state. By providing intensive career advisement and transition supports from the middle grades through grade 12, the College and Career Coach program has helped Arkansas students improve their college-going rate, increase applications for financial aid and more.

The Arkansas College and Career Coach program was established as a pilot in 2010 by the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet to provide advisement and support for students in economically challenged school districts. In 2016, the program name was changed from "Arkansas Works" to "Arkansas College and Career Coaches" to reflect the significant role that the coaches play. The program includes five components in support of student success:

  • College and Career Coaches, who provide career counseling, financial guidance and college and career supports for 7th-12th grade students;
  • The Arkansas Works College and Career Planning System, an online tool that allows students to self-assess their career interests and explore different resources and opportunities;
  • ACT Academies, a summer program to reduce remediation and improve ACT scores for graduating students;
  • Career Cluster® Camps, hands-on career-exploration opportunities that allow middle and high school students to learn about a wide variety of careers; and
  • Arkansas College Application Campaign, which encourages students to apply for college during their senior year.

Through the program, coaches provide support for 7th-12th grade students as they plan and prepare for life after high school. Coaches are each stationed at a partnering institution of higher education, an education service cooperative, or a non-profit organization, and are responsible for providing services and supports to students. These supports include:

  • Helping students develop and continually revise their college and career plans;
  • Assisting parents to understand the college and career planning process;
  • Providing information about Career Technical Education (CTE) opportunities to help students obtain the education and skills to be successful in their future careers; and
  • Providing financial aid information and support for high school students preparing for postsecondary education.

Each partnering site hosts between one and five coaches who, as a team, are responsible for coaching students in nearby school districts. Most sites serve one or two districts, though some sites, such as Arkansas Northeastern College, serve up to eight.

The program is supported through a combination of funding streams: state use of federal funding (e.g., TANF, College Challenge Access, and the Workforce Opportunity & Innovation Act), school districts’ use of federal dollars (e.g. National School Lunch Act and Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act), and philanthropic support. 

In addition, the Arkansas legislature formally issued its support for the College and Career Coach program in 2013 through the passage of Act 1285, which formally codifies the program. This legislation outlines the responsibilities of coaches and the administering agency and established metrics for evaluation. Performance metrics include high school graduation; completion of the Smart Core curriculum, the state's college and career readiness curriculum; college attendance rates; remediation rates; and application for financial aid. 

The Arkansas legislature expanded the College and Career Coach program again in 2015 through Act 960, which removes eligibility restrictions and scales the program to all middle and high schools in the state.

Policy in Action

Since its launch in 2010, the Arkansas College and Career Coach program has seen positive impacts. While the program was initially available to only 21 of Arkansas’ most economically challenged counties, it expanded to 28 counties after the passage of Act 1285 in 2013. Today, the program is available to any interested school districts across the state.

Performance data from 2015 indicates that, of the 37,546 students in school districts participating in the College and Career Coach program, 72 percent (27,139 students total) received services through the Career Coaches program. These school districts met or exceeded all program performance goals between 2009 and 2015. Specifically, the college-going rate in these districts increased by 22 percentage points and student applications for financial aid increased by 32 percentage points.

Starting in the 2016-17 school year, career-focused performance metrics such as industry-recognized credential attainment and work-based learning were integrated into the program to better emphasize career planning and preparation.

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Published: 
June 2010