Arkansas Readiness Policies


High School and Postsecondary Alignment

SREB’s Challenge to Lead 2020 goals call for states to align middle grades and high school policies with college-readiness standards, to recognize multiple paths to graduation and to provide students with diverse postsecondary options and resources. The following tabs summarize how Arkansas aligns its policies to promote smooth transitions for students through high school and beyond.  


College and Career Readiness Definitions

The acquisition of the knowledge and skills a student needs to be successful in all future endeavors including credit-bearing, first-year courses at a postsecondary institution (such as a two-or four-year college, trade school, or technical school) or to embark successfully on a chosen career.


College and Career Planning in K-12

State law requires eighth-grade students to develop a Student Success Plan with their parents and school personnel. These success plans must address accelerated learning opportunities, academic deficiencies and interventions along with college and career planning components while guiding the student along pathways to graduation. They should help assist students to identify college and career readiness skills, select high school courses, and provide a basis for college and career counseling. Plans should be updated annually.

The Arkansas Department of Education provides college and career planning tools to students in grades 8-12. The department has approved several online platforms that districts may use to explore college and career options. The state department reimburses platform costs if districts select an approved vendor.

The Arkansas Department of Education also has created the G.U.I.D.E. for Life program to help students develop soft skills needed for home, school, employment and in the community by high school graduation. The five guiding principles are Growth (manage yourself), Understanding (know yourself), Interaction (build relationships), Decisions (make responsible choices) and Empathy (be aware of others). The program aims to incorporate these skills throughout the school experience to help create successful students.

The Arkansas College and Career Coach program, formerly known as Arkansas Works, leverages federal funds to deliver college and career planning to students in grades seven to 12. Career coaches provide several types of support, including tutoring, mentoring, and career and financial aid counseling. ACT Academies are offered in the summer to help improve student’s ACT scores and Career Cluster Camps allow middle and high school students to explore a variety of career options. The Arkansas College Application Campaign encourages and assistsstudents to apply for college during their senior year in high school.


High School Graduation Requirements

Course and Diploma Requirements for Students Entering the Ninth Grade in 2021 and Beyond

The state requires districts to enroll high school students in the Smart Core diploma pathway unless parents sign a waiver to opt their children out of the default curriculum, in which case they will participate in the Basic Core diploma pathway. The Smart Core diploma path requires 22 course credits.

Subject Credits Courses Notes and Substitutions



English 9, 10, 11, and 12

AP, IB, postsecondary, or other ADE-approved courses



Algebra I


Two additional mathematics courses OR

One additional math course and Computer Science Flex credit

Algebra II and a math beyond Algebra II or Computer Science Flex Credit required

Comparable concurrent credit college courses may be substituted where applicable




Physical Science

One additional science course or Computer Science Flex credit

Sciences course choices include Physical Science, Biology or Applied Biology/Chemistry, Chemistry, Physics or Principles of Technology I & II or PIC Physics

Social Studies


World History

U.S. History

1/2 Civics

1/2 Economics and Personal Finance

AP, IB, postsecondary, or other SDE-approved courses

Oral Communication




Fine Arts




Health and Safety




Physical Education




Career Focus


All units in the career focus requirement shall be established through guidance and counseling at the local school district based on the contemplated work aspirations. Career focus courses shall conform local district policy and reflect state frameworks through course sequencing and career course concentrations where appropriate.

Total Credits


All students are required to complete one digital course for credit.

AP means Advanced Placement courses; IB means International Baccalaureate courses; CTE means Career and Technical course.
Students may substitute one computer science credit for one unit of math, but must take at least one math unit in either Grade 11 or 12. 
Algebra II and/or fourth math may be replaced by another approved course if Smart Core is waived.
 The Economics and Personal Finance course may be counted toward Social Studies or Career Focus. 

The state requires high school students to take one digital course. Students must also earn a credit in a course that includes personal and family finance and must complete hands-on CPR training.

Beginning with the ninth-grade class of 2022-23, students will be required to earn one unit in an ADE-approved high school computer science course which may be earned in grades 8-12.

Students may substitute a flex unit of an approved computer science course (any course starting with 465 or 565) for either the fourth math or third science requirement. Two distinct, approved computer science courses may replace both the fourth math and third science requirements. In this case, any additional computer science credits will be counted as career-focus credits.

Assessment Requirements

The state requires ACT Aspire for grades nine and 10 in five different subject areas: English, reading, math, science and writing. All grade 11 students will have the opportunity to take the ACT English, reading, math and science subject tests, although participation remains optional. Students must also pass the Arkansas Civics Exam with a score of 60% or better.


Accelerated Learning Options in High School

Competency-Based Credit

State law permits Credit by Demonstrated Mastery. Public school districts may submit a plan to the Arkansas Department of Education to award high school credits to students who demonstrate subject-matter competency instead of, or in combination with, completing hours of classroom instruction.

Students may receive college credit for successful completion of College Level Exam Program assessments and following a panel review of demonstrated knowledge and skills relevant to content standards. Postsecondary institutions determine the amount of credit awarded. 

Career and Technical Education

Arkansas Career and Technical Education has partnered with Advance CTE to expand and improve its CTE program, which aligns with the National Career Cluster model. CTE completers are identified as students who have completed three credit units of career and technical education courses in high school. State law requires public schools to offer nine units of career and technical education in a minimum of three different occupational clusters.

Career and Technical Education

Arkansas Career and Technical Education has partnered with Advance CTE to expand and improve its CTE program, which aligns with the National Career Cluster model. CTE completers are identified as students who have completed three credit units of CTE courses in high school. Arkansas public schools are required to offer nine units of career and technical education and must provide students access to a minimum of one career focus program in three different occupational clusters.

Work Based Learning

Work-based learning allows eligible 10th-12th grade students — 16 years and older — to earn high school credit for a combination of classroom instruction and on-the-job training that is related to the student’s career goal. Students must currently be enrolled in, or have completed, at least two CTE courses in their chosen career pathway area to be eligible for both WBL options that count toward completer status: Career Practicums and Youth Apprenticeships.  

Students must develop an ARCareerEd Training Plan and may work for pay under the supervision of a training sponsor (employer) and a teacher/coordinator. The Arkansas’ DOE Division of Career and Technical Education recommends that students earn one unit for every 18 hours of instruction time and every 120 hours of work experience. Students may earn a maximum of two credits per year, with 36 hours of classroom instruction and 240 work hours.

Dual Enrollment and Dual Credit

Arkansas defines dual enrollment as enrollment of a high school student in postsecondary education for college-level credit only, whereas concurrent enrollment is when a high school student takes a college-level course taught on a high school campus for both high school and college-level credit.

College-level concurrent enrollment students must score a 19 or better on the ACT Reading and other corresponding sub-test(s) or equivalent test, meet the postsecondary institution’s admissions requirements, and have a signed parental release to be able to enroll in classes. Concurrent courses must be freshman- or sophomore-level courses approved in the institution’s catalog, and general courses must be listed in the Arkansas Course Transfer System.

Some concurrent course offerings are blended with Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses and require registration for concurrent credit at the beginning of the term and completion of an AP or IB exam to earn college credit. Students may earn up to one unit of high school credit for each general education concurrent course, each blended AP/ concurrent or blended IB/concurrent course, and each CTE concurrent course that is a minimum of three semester credit hours.

Students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch are not required to pay any of the cost for such courses up to six credit hours. Students and families bear the cost of concurrent enrollment unless the costs are paid by the district or a private foundation.

Act 456 (2019) creates the Arkansas Concurrent Challenge Scholarship. The program allows eligible students who are classified as a higher school junior or senior to receive tuition discounts if they enroll in endorsed concurrent enrollment courses or certificate programs. The scholarship awards $125 per course up to two concurrent credit courses per semester. To remain eligible, students must earn a grade of C or better in the course(s) in which they enroll.

Advanced Placement / International Baccalaureate

In the fall of 2018, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education Coordinating Board began requiring institutions of higher education to award college credit to students who earned a score of 3 or higher on any Advanced Placement exam. Institutions may award additional credit to students who earn a score of 4 or 5 on an exam but may not award credit for scores below a 3. Credits may count directly towards the student’s degree or elective requirements.

The Advanced Placement Training and Incentive Program provides state grant funding to support Advanced Placement initiatives already operating in the state. The program encourages the advancement of AP teachers and programs by providing mentorship, training, materials and resources while also increasing the number of students enrolling and performing well in AP programs.

Early High School Graduation

Arkansas Code § 6-18-224 allows students to graduate early if they have earned the number of credits required by the district for graduation.


Postsecondary Admission Requirements

Four-Year Institutions

Students must have a high school diploma or GED credential. For unconditional admission, students must complete the “Smart Core” high school curriculum requirements with a minimum grade-point average of 2.0. While parents may waive their child’s participation in the “Smart Core,” opting out could result in conditional admission and ineligibility for state financial aid.

State law authorizes institutions to admit applicants on a conditional basis. These students receive full admission once they complete 12 hours of core academic courses with a cumulative GPA of 2.0.

Two-Year and/or Technical Colleges

Applicants must possess a high school diploma or an equivalency credential. While community and technical colleges are open-access institutions, admission does not guarantee entry into specific academic programs. State rules require technical colleges to develop procedures to determine whether students are able to benefit from instruction.   


Postsecondary Placement Policies


Students who meet or exceed the ACT Benchmarks in English, reading and math are exempt from placement testing.

The Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board requires all institutions to have an approved student placement plan. The board directs institutions to use multiple measures to determine placement into college-level courses when students score below the minimum ACT cut scores.

Arkansas Department of Higher Education ─ Minimum ACT Scores

ACT Sub-test Cut Score
English Composition 18
Reading 22
Math – College Algebra 22

The multiple weighted measures may include the following:

  • high school grade-point average
  • the number of years since a student took a specific course or was in school
  • other test scores (such as SAT or high school end-of-course exams)
  • other non-cognitive information such as motivation, time management skills or family support
  • writing samples and successful completion of a transitional course in high school

The board requires institutions to assess the effectiveness of placement criteria in predicting student success in the first credit-bearing college course.

Institutions may require that students interested in STEM majors meet higher standards for placement.


State Financial Aid for Undergraduates

Merit-Based Aid

The state lottery funds the merit-based Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship Program, which provides financial aid to Arkansas residents pursuing a postsecondary degree or certificate. Students who graduated from an Arkansas public high school and earned an ACT composite score of 19 or higher or a qualifying score on an equivalent exam are eligible for the scholarship. Unconditional admission to more selective public universities requires completion of the Smart Core.

Recent graduates may qualify with a cumulative high school grade-point average of 2.5 or an ACT Composite score of at least 19. Full-time college students may earn the merit scholarship if they successfully complete 27 semester credits with a GPA of 2.5 or higher. Academic Challenge Scholarship recipients must maintain a 2.5 GPA and earn 30 semester credits each year to continue receiving aid.

Students will receive scholarship renewals until they reach one of the following milestones: attempting 120 credits, earning a baccalaureate degree or receiving eight semesters of funding. Recipients may regain the scholarship if they meet the GPA and credit completion requirements within the same academic year that they became ineligible.

The Arkansas General Assembly revised award amounts beginning with the 2016-2017 academic year. Freshmen at all eligible four-year postsecondary institutions now receive $1,000 per academic year. The award increases to $4,000 for sophomores and juniors. Seniors who maintain the award for three academic years receive a $5,000 award during their final year. Second-year students at community and technical colleges receive a $3,000 award. Act 834 (2019) allows Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship recipients who have earned at least 87 semester credits to receive a part-time award under certain circumstances.

The Arkansas’ Governor’s Distinguished Scholarship — the most academically rigorous scholarship program in the state — requires graduating seniors to score either a 32 on the ACT or a 1410 on the SAT and earn a 3.5 grade-point average to be eligible. Students who are named National Merit Finalists or National Achievement Scholars may qualify without meeting the GPA requirements. The scholarship covers tuition, mandatory fees, and room and board up to $10,000 per year.

Need-Based Aid

The Arkansas Future Grant Program, or ARFuture, provides grants for students enrolled in qualifying certificate and associate degree programs. Recipients receive funding for five semesters or until they attain an associate degree. While in their program, recipients must maintain satisfactory academic progress, meet each semester with a mentor and complete at least 10 hours of community service per semester.

Graduates must work in the state for at least three years and be employed within six months after receiving an associate degree or a certification. The grant converts into an interest-bearing loan if recipients fail to meet the job requirement or leave the state. Act 618 (2019) adds eight career fields to the eligibility list, including nursing, education and information technology. 

The Arkansas Workforce Challenge Scholarship, funded by lottery revenues, helps support students interested in high-demand industry workforce training programs, including in healthcare and information technology.


Arkansas also provides financial assistance to students seeking training and education in specific areas of study and to support specific student groups. These include the Health Education Grant that supports graduate students seeking further training in areas including dentistry, podiatry and veterinary medicine and helps these students attend out-of-state institutions.