Arkansas requires colleges to teach the birds and the bees

College is not too late to teach sexual health education, supporters of a new mandate say

Under a new state law, Arkansas's public colleges and universities must provide students with sexual health education in an effort to curb unplanned pregnancies in the state, Jennifer Ludden reports for NPR's "Shots."

Last year, the state Legislature passed a law instructing public institutions in Arkansas to address unplanned pregnancies, as the state has the highest rate of teenage births in the country. The law, modeled after one that took effect last year in Mississippi, has been met with bipartisan support.

Angela Lasiter, a program specialist with the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, notes that the law could have greater implications for the state. According to Lasiter, young parents who either drop out of or never make it to college cost the state $129 million annually as a result of "lower income, more people on welfare, a less higher quality of living."

Children of teenage mothers are also more likely to have unplanned pregnancies at a younger age. Lasiter is developing a nonprofit to funnel money toward supporting the mandate, which currently lacks funding. She is also working to ensure that clinics near community colleges are stocked with contraceptives.

Institutions throughout Arkansas are taking different approaches to educating students about sexual health. At Arkansas Tech University (ATU), this year's freshmen watched a video in which real students discuss the challenges of being a young parent. At the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, incoming freshmen are required to complete an online lesson about preventing unplanned pregnancies. The university drove the message home with an orientation event and also placed postcards with information about health services in students' dorm rooms.

While college-level sex education may seem a bit late, those involved in the efforts believe students have much to gain at this stage. ATU's wellness dean Kristy Davis notes that sex education is important for students who may be away from home for the first time and faculty can help "make sure that they're prepared and they have the information to make good decisions for themselves."

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"[College students] don't know as much as they think they do, and they don't know as much as we wish they did," says Andrea Kane, vice president for policy and strategic partnerships at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

According to Kane, many college-age students still do not have accurate information about sex. In addition, they may have forgotten lessons from high school sex education classes, or will find the information more relevant now that they are older (Ludden, "Shots," NPR, 8/26).

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