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Murphy Oil pledges $50M to put students from one school through college


In one of the most generous programs of its kind anywhere in the country, an oil company announced Monday it is putting up $50 million for college scholarships for nearly all high school graduates in its working-class hometown over the next 20 years.

Murphy Oil Co. said it wants to increase the number of students who attend college and perhaps attract new businesses to El Dorado, with the scholarships a selling point. It said it also hopes the program will help create better jobs here for students to come back to after graduating from college.

The program begins with this spring's graduating class. El Dorado High School has about 250 graduates each year, about 65 percent of whom go to college.

"This is a huge day. As of today, El Dorado High School graduates will have an unprecedented opportunity to continue their education," Superintendent Bob Watson told students.

"For some students, this is life-changing. Students who have worked hard, but would not have been able to attend college because of financial limitations, now have the means to do so."

Under the El Dorado Promise program, students can use the scholarship money at an Arkansas institution or at any out-of-state college. But the annual scholarships are capped at the highest resident tuition rate at an Arkansas public university, currently $6,010.

Students who attended school in El Dorado since kindergarten are eligible for the full amount; students who attended for all four years of high school get 65 percent. Those who have been in the district for less than four years are ineligible.

A similar initiative began last year in Kalamazoo, Mich., but the city's graduates must elect to attend a public university in Michigan. The program began with an undisclosed amount of money from an anonymous benefactor.

Murphy Oil will put up $5 million a year for 10 years to fund the El Dorado program, which is expected to last 20 years.

"We are committed to making El Dorado a great place to live and work, and we created the promise to further invest in El Dorado's greatest resource, our children," said Claiborne Deming, Murphy Oil's president and chief executive.

El Dorado (pronounced el duh-RAY-doh), a city of 20,500 about 120 miles south of Little Rock, is in Arkansas' oil-and-gas producing region. Union County, surrounding it, also supports lumber operations. The county's per-capita income is just under $32,000 &

just shy of the state average &

and fewer than one in five residents live in poverty. Fewer than 15 percent of Union County's residents have college diplomas.

Arkansas has the second-lowest percentage of college graduates in the nation at 16.7 percent, ahead of West Virginia's 14.4 percent.

Murphy Oil last year was ranked 193rd on the Fortune magazine list of the nation's largest companies, with revenue of $11.9 billion. It is a major supplier of gasoline stations at Wal-Mart stores and Sam's Clubs.




On the Net:

El Dorado Promise: http:www.eldoradopromise.com