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Smart talk, April 17 

New states grad rate

The U.S. Department of Education announced last week that it will require all states to follow a single formula when calculating high-school graduation rates. States have been calculating rates with differing formulas, some of them greatly inflating the percentage of students graduating in four years. In Mississippi, for example, the state reported an 87 percent graduation rate to the federal government, while the Department of Education calculated that the rate was actually 63.3 percent.

The Department of Education has not yet released the formula it will be using, so it's difficult to say exactly how the new rules will affect Arkansas. Since 2006, Arkansas has used a National Governor's Association----–recommended formula, which accounts for students through all four years of high school. The NGA formula has offered a bit bleaker picture than the state's previous method of calculation: Under the NGA method, Arkansas had a graduation rate of 76 percent in 2006-2007, as opposed to 85.4 percent under its previous system.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Julie Thompson commended the federal proposal. “There was certainly integrity to the way we were calculating it beforehand, but we do believe in having this uniform rate,” Thompson said.

They'll be back

When the NCAA chose Little Rock to host the first round of its men's basketball tournament this year, it was understood that the city would have to put on a smooth show to be considered again in the future. So how did everything go? Quite well, according to Andrea Nunez, who managed the tournament for host UALR. She said the players had a good experience — a key consideration for the NCAA — and that NCAA feedback was positive. “I think we met their expectations very well,” Nunez said. “They didn't promise us anything, but they told us to definitely bid again.” (She added that she didn't think a bout of booing the Texas team would adversely affect a future bid.)

The tournament was an economic success too — it brought about $5 million in economic activity to the Central Arkansas area, said Terry Hartwick, head of the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce. He said he has heard only two complaints: Concession lines were long and there were some lights out around a parking lot. He is optimistic about the region's chance to host again, and he estimated that Arkansas might have another men's tournament by 2011 or 2012. “We're in the loop now,” he said.

Coincidental

University of Arkansas Dean Don Bobbitt announced last week he was leaving the UA for a new job at the University of Texas at Arlington. Bobbitt says it is purely coincidental that his announcement coincided with a story in the campus paper, the Arkansas Traveler, in which Bobbitt said the Fulbright College was seriously underfunded.

“My remarks would have been the same if I weren't leaving,” Bobbitt told the Arkansas Times this week. Bobbitt has called for a $5 million increase in the $38 million budget of the college, the greatest revenue generator on campus, bringing in $48 million in tuition last year.

Bobbitt said the college has lost outstanding faculty because of low salaries and its work load has increased without a comparable increase in personnel.

Bobbitt will be provost and vice president for academic affairs at Arlington beginning July 1. He'll also have an appointment as a chemistry professor, as he does at UA. UTA has an enrollment of 25,000, about 6,000 more than the UA. Bobbitt will be paid $250,000 a year at UTA. He makes $187,000 at UA.

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