Few people have been more involved than Tara Smith in steering the millions of dollars that the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery has promised to Arkansas students.
She worked to guide policy before the lottery legislation was written — she believed middle-class access was crucial to keep students from graduating under pressing debt — and oversaw the creation of the state's YOUniversal Scholarship Application System, which allows students to apply to dozens of sources using one form.
So far this year, her office has received 100,000 applications for aid, up from the usual 25,000 a year, and it will disburse about $150 million to 25,000 students, up from $50 million to 8,000 students.
Smith, a lifelong Little Rock resident and first-generation college grad with a bachelor's in finance and an MBA from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, thinks that increased access to higher education could transform the state's economy and culture. "I know from experience that education can open many doors for a person, to help them achieve a successful future," she says. "I have a passion for helping others, and I try to take advantage of every opportunity I have to help someone open that door."