"We have to find a way to fund TOPS for grown folks," says Louisiana Community and Technical College System president Monty Sullivan, especially since the system now has the responsibility for adult education in the state — a huge task.
(NOTE: This is an ENCORE episode of Capitol Access)
"We are a state of 4.6-million people: 2.3-million of those are working-age adults. 600-thousand of the 2.3-million lack a high school education," Sullivan explains.
"The poverty that we face, the incarceration rates that we face, the health issues that we face — they're all solved by a common thread: education, education, and education. The challenges that we face require comprehensive financial aid policy — to focus that financial aid strategy toward that adult population."
Louisiana has invested heavily in TOPS, which goes to newly-minted high school grads. One year after graduating from high school, if students don’t use TOPS, they lose it. Adults, often referred to as "non-traditional students," can't get it. Instead, depending on their income, adults have to rely on federal PELL grants for assistance.
"But remember," Sullivan says, "the federal PELL dollar is primarily going to pay for the cost of tuition and fees and books. How are you going to live?
“One of the biggest challenges for adults is letting go of the day-to-day jobs that they have in order to be able to take the time to go back to one of our institutions. It’s the 27 to 28-year-old mother of two, working a couple of jobs, trying to move from 8 bucks an hour to 18 bucks an hour.”
What if she — and others like her — had more financial aid to go back to school and get specific training?
"I want you to imagine a Louisiana, with a college credential or an industry-based certification in every household. What does that look like?" Sullivan asks, then adds, "It's not so much about the piece of paper or diploma hanging on the wall. It's the other piece of paper – the W-2."