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$300,000 gift to start ASU scholarship fund

Emphasis is on free-enterprise studies

Arkansas State University's College of Business has received its largest gift exclusively for scholarships, to create the Bradbury Free Enterprise Scholars Program, the university system announced Wednesday.

The Bradbury Family Foundation of Little Rock -- with trustees Curt and Chucki Bradbury -- gave the college $300,000 for a student scholarship endowment, surpassing the previous record of $250,000 given in October by former trustee Charles Luter and his wife, Kay. The College of Business will award a $2,000 scholarship to six interdisciplinary students each year based on merit.

"Our country is divided on fundamental issues about our economic system and whether it's been good for enough people, and what concerns me is that that debate -- at least in some colleges and universities -- is not taking place in an open, free environment," said Curt Bradbury, who is chief operating officer of Stephens Inc., during the announcement at the ASU System office in Little Rock.

"What we want is an academically honest review of economic systems, and we think that will lead to a conclusion -- not that we want anybody to adopt our conclusion blindly -- but it will lead to a conclusion that our system is good and that we think it's very important to have an open, intellectually honest debate about our economic system."

The announcement even garnered nods from Nasdaq's digital billboard in Times Square in New York City. One message said: "Nasdaq congratulates Curt Bradbury on the establishment of the Bradbury Free Enterprise Scholars Program." Another said: "Nasdaq congratulates Arkansas State University on the establishment of the Bradbury Free Enterprise Scholars Program."

Curt Bradbury had been daydreaming about scholarships for a free-enterprise certificate program for several years but really put it into motion in the past year. Arkansas State University's College of Business in Jonesboro worked quickly to clearly define what courses would be a part of it: Legal Environment of Business, Entrepreneurship, International Trade, Government Regulation of Business, and Capitalism and Free Enterprise.

To be eligible for the scholarship, students must have completed two of the five courses and declared themselves candidates for the certificate program. The scholarships will start this fall.

"It is so important that we do everything we can to help our students afford college," said business college Dean Shane Hunt. "It is truly a blessing for us to have incredible supporters like the Bradburys that will make our students' lives better now and in the future."

The certificate program is open to all students no matter the major.

"When we talk about free enterprise, we're talking about the different philosophies about how capitalism in a society works," Hunt said. "And it's really a very vast kind of thing. It really gets into the regulatory environment, opportunities for entrepreneurs to succeed, start new businesses and create jobs. Regardless of your pursuit, it could really help you be a leading executive and an entrepreneur."

ASU already offers four of the five courses and will not need any extra professors, he added.

On Wednesday, Hunt announced the first-ever scholar: Ethan Barnes, who is studying business administration.

Barnes, 21, of Hardy went to Little Rock at Hunt's request, but he didn't know what he was in for. The ASU junior was greeting everyone and checking in coats when he was whisked into the room for the surprise announcement.

He first learned of the scholarship program through Hunt, whom he calls his mentor. Hunt encouraged him to apply.

"He said, 'Ethan, you're a perfect fit for this,'" Barnes said. "And I said, 'Oh, well that'd be great. I'd love that, but what are the odds, right? What are the odds that would happen when you have 1,500 students in the College of Business? How are you going to pick Ethan Barnes for one award? So then we came down today, and it was a complete surprise. It's a blessing."

Barnes already has taken four of the courses. The Capitalism and Free Enterprise course is the only new class, which he will take when it is offered in the fall.

The Bradbury Family Foundation gift has brought about other enrichment opportunities relating to free enterprise.

The 14,085-student university will start a guest lecture series on free enterprise in fall 2017 -- funded by a separate foundation. The college has not yet finalized the first speaker, Hunt said.

ASU also will work with the nonprofit Economics Arkansas -- which was started in 1962 by then-Education Commissioner Arch Ford to increase economic literacy in the state -- to host a Free Enterprise Conference every summer. The nonprofit group helps teachers of kindergarten through 12th grade in including economics and personal finance into the classroom, according to its website.

The conference is for high school economics teachers to learn more about free enterprise and help them enhance their curriculum, making the subject more interesting to their students, Hunt said.

The gift announced Wednesday isn't the first from the Bradburys.

The family had donated more than $1 million to the university before Wednesday's announced gift. In 2001, Curt Bradbury gave the university an endowment to start the art museum -- which has been in the Bradburys' name since 2015 -- on the Jonesboro campus. In 2015, the couple gave a matching gift of $500,000 to transform the 5,200-square-foot space into five separate galleries that will have rotating art exhibits, the university has said.

Hunt said what the Bradburys have built is "truly the American dream."

"We are not doing right by the taxpayers to this state, to the parents, to all of the stakeholders involved if we are not doing our part to produce the next generation of leaders, the next generation of people who will follow in your footsteps and build great companies and employ people and help our state and our country and our society be the best it can possibly be," he said. "We're focused on that everyday."

Hunt added they also focus on reducing the cost of college.

"I will tell you when you think about the fact that this is the largest scholarship gift in the history of the A-State College of Business, there are not words that I have to share with you the appreciation of all of us here to them," he said.

NW News on 03/19/2017

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