It may be one of the most fruitful partnerships ever developed between a petroleum company and its local community.
To the people of El Dorado, Arkansas, there is no may be about it.
Murphy Oil, a worldwide exploration and production company and the United States ninth-largest refiner, has promised almost $50 million dollars in scholarships to the graduating seniors in its small Arkansas hometown, located about 120 miles south of Little Rock.
The program is called the “El Dorado Promise,” and it awards free college scholarships to students who have completed four years at El Dorado High School.
The caveat: There isn’t a caveat.
Specifically, graduating seniors can use the scholarships at either in-state or out-of-state institutions (capped at $6,200 per year) and there’s no stipulation as to what they study – or whether they even return to El Dorado.
Other than the obvious good will generated by the program, Magan Parker, a spokeswoman for Murphy Oil, put it this way:
“El Dorado is our home – it’s our corporate headquarters and has been since the founding of the company,” she said. “Knowing that the foundation of any vibrant community is its education system, good schools are a must-have to attract industry and high caliber employees.
“We believe the Promise can achieve this, in addition to challenging students to excel and go on to pursue post-secondary education.
“There are no strings attached for students who receive Promise money for college, ” she said. “Our hope is that they go to the school of their choice, learn all they can and experience everything the world has to offer.
“If they choose to return to El Dorado, great.”
Commitment to Community
The program was inspired, Parker said, by a similar one in Kalamazoo, Mich.
“Their program was funded by anonymous donors and is different in that it limits the students’ choice of college to public post-secondary institutions within the state of Michigan.”
The El Dorado program places no such restrictions.
In fact, the longer a student attends public school in El Dorado, the more he or she is eligible to receive.
For instance, students who attend school from kindergarten through 12th grade are eligible for the full $6,200 annually, while students who transfer in after kindergarten are eligible on a sliding scale.
Further, any student who completes four years at El Dorado high school is eligible for up to 65 percent of the $6,200, or more than $4,000.
James Fouse, who is the El Dorado school administrator of the Promise, called Murphy Oil “a wonderful and committed community partner,” and said that “while it has only been in place since Jan. 22 (2007), I can tell you in my discussions with students – and I have talked to all 4,500 – they are much more serious about their futures.”
Fouse says the number of students taking Pre-AP and AP courses is up, and that 83 percent of the senior class at El Dorado High School went to college in 2007, compared to 59 percent in 2006.
Claiborne Deming, Murphy Oil’s president and chief executive, was quoted as saying, “We are committed to making El Dorado a great place to live and work, and we created the promise to further invest in El Dorado’s greatest resource, our children.”
Fuel for the Future
Specifically, Murphy Oil, which has reported revenue of almost $12 billion and is the main supplier for gasoline to stations belonging to Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, has promised to contribute $5 million a year for 10 years to fund the El Dorado Promise.
According to state figures, fewer than 15 percent of the residents in surrounding El Dorado communities have college diplomas. National figures rank Arkansas 49th in the nation for college graduates, with only a 16.7 percent graduation rate. West Virginia is last at 14.4 percent.
Fouse said it’s those kinds of figures that make a program like this so important.
“This is as much a community building program as it is an academic program,” he said. “Both the city and the school district have seen a decline in populations since 1980. The goal of the El Dorado Promise is to give scholarships, bring students back to the community where new jobs will have been spawned, and raise their families here in El Dorado.
“We have experienced a growth of 157 new students this year, 53 of them in kindergarten,” he said. “This is coupled with the El Dorado Forward Program that passed a 1-cent sales tax to promote the city, build a civic center and bring new jobs to the community.”
The requirements to keep the college scholarship are simple enough:
- Have a 2.0 GPA each semester.
- A minimum of at least 12 hours per semester.
- Be enrolled in a two- or four-year degree program.
Parker said this is by design.
“We want the Promise to reach as many students as possible,” she said.“There are already scholarship opportunities based on academic achievement and grants based on financial need. The Promise applies to all students. It’s what makes this program unique.”
Asked about the effect on his community, Fouse mentioned one of the most obvious differences since the program was announced:
“Even the Wal-Mart greeters have a bigger smile on their faces these