A new program that local education officials say will offer a clear pathway for students to earn not only an associate degree from Southeast Arkansas College but a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff was unveiled Wednesday morning.

Called A2B, the program has been approved by both the University of Arkansas Board and the SEARK Board. It will go into effect this fall, with a deadline to apply set for Aug. 1.

“We’re proud to partner with SEARK,” said UAPB Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander before he and other representatives of UAPB joined Steven Bloomberg, president of SEARK, and others from that campus in signing the agreement.

Alexander said this will simplify the process of students obtaining a degree, and studies have shown that adults with more education are less likely to be unemployed and more likely to live healthy and happy lives.

He also predicted that the program will increase enrollment at both campuses.

“We want to welcome the students from SEARK to our campus,” Alexander said.

The first of those students, Haley Henderson, has already signed up for the A2B program and described herself as a “home school drop out.”

The single mother of a 5-year-old son, Henderson, 25, obtained her GED at SEARK before enrolling in college classes at the school.

“I wasn’t sure I was going to pass the GED, and now I’m a college student,” she said.

As for her participation, Henderson said she knows that “I’m not going to have to take classes (in the same subjects) twice.”

Henderson said she isn’t sure yet which classes she wants to take but is considering becoming an alcohol and drug counselor or something in agriculture.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I know I’ll have a better and more stable life for my family.”

Bloomberg said the new agreement “created a wonderful and new tradition and we want to share this moment with our partners at UAPB.”

“For students, this is the best possible pathway to success,” he said.

Bloomberg also said that the agreement will serve as a catalyst for economic development and additional opportunities for businesses looking at expanding or locating in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County.

Linda Okiror, the vice-chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Success at UAPB and who was instrumental in creating the program, said she is expecting at least 50 students to begin the program this year, but if more sign up they would be welcome.

The program is open to all students seeking a degree at SEARK who are taking 12 hours or more of classes per semester. Students will apply at UAPB, then begin their classwork at SEARK during a transition period. After completing at least 30 hours with a grade point of at least 2.0, they will then transition to programs at UAPB.

Students participating in the program will, depending on their degree status and credit-hour enrollment, be able to take advantage of services at both campuses, such as counseling, library privileges, tutoring and academic skill support, eligibility to buy parking passes and attend sporting events. Also, housing at UAPB and/or meal plans will also be available to A2B students.