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Celebrating two years of New Beginnings


Gov. Sanders names new director of tourism

Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders has named Dalaney Thomas as the new director of tourism at the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. Thomas previously worked for Arkansas ad-agency CJRW as an account manager for Arkansas Tourism and Oaklawn for more than 8 years.

Our partner at Talk Business & Politics reports that Thomas managed campaigns, media strategies, public relations, and social media content strategies during her time working with CJRW. She will now facilitate an economic sector that grew to be a $9.2 billion (dollar) industry in her new role. An impact study commissioned by the department found that tourism in Arkansas grew 15.4% in 2022, with more than 48 million people visiting the state.

ACT scores reach record-low

Scores on the ACT college preparatory exam reached a national 30-year low in the 2022-23 academic year. Arkansas high school students' scores dropped from 18.8 to 18.6, according to the College Board - the non-profit that administers the test. The national average was 19.5 out of a possible 36 points. Suzanne McCray is dean of admissions at the University of Arkansas, she said the downward trend is likely due to universities placing less emphasis on the test for admissions.

“That’s very likely had a national impact on how many times a student is taking the test," McCray said. "If we’re relying more heavily on students taking it once, then the scores are going to be lower."

The University of Arkansas went test optional in 2020 and McCray said the change is now permanent for applicants with a 3.2 GPA or higher.

“And we’ve done studies — COVID forced us to be test-optional — and what that allowed was that we had numbers to better understand what the test meant in terms of retention and graduation," McCray said. "And we found that students really retained well and had high success rates if their GPAs were higher, and that seemed to matter more at our institution."

Despite the move away from ACT in admissions, McCray said high school students should not discount the test altogether.

“Scholarships often require scores," McCray said, "so we do try to remind students in the state: do take the test, do take it more than once if you can. There are scholarships — especially endowed scholarships — that often the donor has required an ACT score. There are scholarships that are going to require that, so they could be cutting themselves out of some of that if they don’t take the test, or take it more than once.

Other schools in Arkansas that have a test-optional admissions process include John Brown University in Siloam Springs, as well as Hendrix College and the University of Central Arkansas, both in Conway.

New Beginnings celebrates second anniversary

A nonprofit agency providing bridge housing for unsheltered people in Fayetteville is marking two years of operation. New Beginnings Northwest Arkansas celebrated Sunday with a public cookout, tours of the 20 living cabins on the campus and live music. Solomon Burchfield, the program director, said the bridge housing can be a vital resource for people who have been chronically without shelter since there are many barriers to getting back into housing:

“Not just that my income is really low on disability — I may make $840 a month — so I need really affordable housing," Burchfield said. "I also probably have no tenant history. I have been in the woods for 15 years, so how can I prove that I’ll be a good tenant? A lot of our folks here are still working on criminal and criminal background issues as well. Affordable housing and accessible housing really, it really feels like a miracle."

The program promotes physical, mental, spiritual well-being as well as housing-focused support. Burchfield said the creation of the New Beginnings campus required cooperation from hundreds of individuals and organizations.

“A miracle of people coming together, of financially supporting the project, of volunteers that come in and feed meals every evening," Burchfield said. "It’s that kind of miracle. We like to say that it takes a village to build a community. Everyone has just come around folks here, and that’s the miracle.”

Burchfield said the work extends just beyond the campus of 20 cabins, a kitchen, case-workers’ offices and laundry facilities. He says the organization works to promote the expansion of supportive housing options and promote housing justice.

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Matthew Moore is senior producer for Ozarks at Large.
Kyle Kellams is KUAF's news director and host of Ozarks at Large.
Jack Travis is a reporter for Ozarks at Large.
Daniel Caruth is KUAF's Morning Edition host and reporter for Ozarks at Large.
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