Arkansas Legislature Leads Nation In Percentage Of State Lawmakers Without A College Education

LITTLE ROCK, Ark -- The Arkansas legislature has the nation's highest percentage of state lawmakers who have not attended college at all, according to a new study by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

There are 135 legislators in Little Rock, 25 percent of whom do not have any college experience, according to the study. Comparatively, 8.7 percent of all state lawmakers nationwide have not attended college.

The five states with the highest percentage of legislators without any college are Arkansas, Montana, Kansas, South Dakota and Arizona.

The most formally educated state legislatures -- those with the highest percentage of lawmakers that have a bachelor's degree or higher -- are in California, Virginia, Nebraska, New York and Texas.

The Arkansas legislature mirrors its state's population, said Hal Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

"It's in keeping with the notion of a representative institution, in that Arkansas is also below the college-educated norm for the (U.S.) population as a whole," Bass told Reuters.

He said that low pay and the fact that being an Arkansas legislator is a part-time job are also factors.

"Our rural, frontier political culture has not traditionally placed an especially high value on academic credentials for positions of leadership in society," Bass said.

According to numerous studies, Arkansas ranks 50th among the states in the percentage of residents older than 25 with a bachelor's degree. One in five Arkansas ninth-graders does not obtain a high school diploma, according to The Arkansas Department of Education.

That should be more of an issue than current legislators' diplomas, said Kathy Webb, a Democratic state legislator from Little Rock.

"I'm a lot more focused on our high school dropout rate than on my colleagues having a college degree," she said.

Webb, who holds a political science degree from Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Virginia, said the education level of her statehouse colleagues isn't discussed among them.

No state has minimum educational standards for its legislators, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"A lot of people bring world views based on their experiences as opposed to a degree," Webb said. "I think that diversity is what makes Arkansas a lot less polarized than Washington or other states and we work together regardless of party or degrees."

(Edited by Corrie MacLaggan and Jerry Norton)

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