Arkansas has the highest teen birth rate in the nation. In 2014, 3,782 Arkansas teens gave birth to an unplanned child. Of these unplanned pregnancies, almost 75% belonged to young women aged 18 to 19 years. It is clear the need for dramatic action is necessary in our state to improve the lives and futures of young adults.
During the 2015 Arkansas General Assembly Regular Session, State Representatives Deborah Ferguson and Robin Lundstrom and State Senator Keith Ingram sponsored legislation that Governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law as Act 943. This legislation reguired the Arkansas Department of Higher Education to implement a plan of action addressing the prevention of unplanned pregnancies among unmarried 18 and 19 year old college students. Arkansas is the second state in the country to take on this proactive endeavor, following Mississippi.
A working group was established, co-chaired by Angela Lasiter and Lynnette Watts. Dr. Roger Guevara from SAU replaced Lynnette Watts as co-chair after she retired. In addition to the chairs, Representatives Deborah Ferguson and Robin Lundstrom, selected representatives from the community colleges, universities, nonprofits, and state agencies came together to draft an Action Plan for all public two and four year colleges and universities in Arkansas. The plan is designed to act as a guideline that can be adapted to meet individual needs and preferences of each school.
As this mandate is unfunded, certain limitations were identified, such as fundraising for college and university events. The working group felt that by creating a nonprofit with 501(c)3 status, grants could be pursued as well as donors being able to support this initiative in a way that would enable tax receipts to be given. Also, the nonprofit, the Arkansas Campaign to Prevent Unplanned Pregnancy, is reaching out to young adults in a way that can be shared outside of the college classroom… social media.
This is only the beginning. It is our firm belief that the intent of the legislators, ADHE, campuses across the state along with young adults and their parents all want the same end result: for students to enter a college or university, face the least amount of obstacles possible, graduate or receive a certificate, and start a career in Arkansas that will enable them to be successful and proud Arkansans. By working together in this endeavor, Arkansans can be poised for an amazing future.
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