El Dorado Promise

The El Dorado Promise is a scholarship program established in January 2007 by Murphy Oil Company. The initiative provides El Dorado High School graduating seniors with a grant for tuition and expenses at any two- or four-year post-secondary institution in the United States. The maximum amount paid by the grant is set by the highest annual resident tuition at an Arkansas public university, but the funds can be used to attend any accredited U.S. college or university. This program covers only associate and baccalaureate degrees. The El Dorado Promise was modeled after the successful Kalamazoo Promise in Michigan, and the city of El Dorado (Union County) has seen similar growth and increased national attention.

Murphy Oil, headquartered in El Dorado, was operated throughout the last half of the twentieth century by El Dorado native Charles H. Murphy Jr. Promoting education was always a principal issue in Murphy’s philanthropic agenda. The company made frequent investments in the local school district, and these investments continued after Murphy’s death in 2002. As the city’s general population began to decline in the late twentieth century, public school enrollment dropped. In order to increase school enrollment and spark economic revitalization in the area, Murphy Oil’s board of directors approved a motion in December 2006 to establish the El Dorado Promise. The Murphy Foundation invested $50 million in the program, which was to last twenty years.

Community leaders initially brought the idea to the company’s board and to then CEO Claiborne Deming after learning of a similar program in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which was established in 2005 as the first program of its kind. Similar to the requirements of the Kalamazoo Promise, only students who have been enrolled from kindergarten can earn 100% of the funds. Those who enroll in first through third grade can earn 95% of the funds. For every subsequent grade level, the amount decreases by 5% until ninth grade, at which point it is fixed at 65%. Any students who enroll in tenth grade or later are not eligible for the scholarship. There are also requirements that students must meet once they are in college, including: 1) being admitted to and enrolled in a certified two- or four-year U.S. college or university, 2) making progress toward an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree, 3) maintaining a 2.0 combined grade point average, and 4) completing no fewer than twenty-four credit hours every scholarly year. The program covers up to five consecutive years of university education if these stipulations are maintained.

The impacts of the El Dorado Promise have been noted in academic studies and assessments since it was established. Home sales in the county increased by 4% by the end of 2007, and many new families began to move into the area, as was the trend in Kalamazoo. Studies have also shown that over 80% of high school graduates who are eligible for the scholarship have attended college since 2007; before 2007, only 60% of eligible students attended college. Within a decade, enrollment in Advanced Placement courses increased by 164%. By 2017, the El Dorado Promise had provided funds for more than 2,000 students. Enrollment in the El Dorado School District increased to 15.5% above the projections, while surrounding districts continued a regressive trend.

In El Dorado, an economic development tax was passed by voters in 2007 and again 2015, a new high school was opened in 2011, and development began for an arts district in the downtown area. The program has also inspired other similar programs in Arkansas, such as the Arkadelphia Promise, which was announced in 2010.

For additional information:
Ash, Jennifer W. “A Promise Kept in El Dorado? An Evaluation of the Impact of a Universal, Place-Based College Scholarship on K-12 Achievement in High School Graduation.” EdD diss., University of Arkansas, 2015.

A Decade of Promise (Booklet). El Dorado Promise. http://www.eldoradopromise.com/pdf/El_Dorado_Promise_Booklet.pdf (accessed September 10, 2018).

El Dorado Promise. http://www.eldoradopromise.com (accessed September 10, 2018).

Kalamazoo Promise. https://www.kalamazoopromise.com/ (accessed September 10, 2018).

Landrum, Nancy E. “Murphy Oil and the El Dorado Promise.” Journal of Business Inquiry 7, no. 1 (2008): 79–85.

Ritter, Gary W., and Jennifer Ash. “The Promise of a College Scholarship Transforms a District.” Phi Delta Kappan 97, no. 5 (2016): 13–19.

Sierra Stormes
Henderson State University

David Collins
North Little Rock, Arkansas


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