Louisiana’s higher education leaders recently boosted the goals of postsecondary education in the state. By 2030, they want 60% of Louisiana’s adults to have earned some sort of college degree or certificate. To hit that target, the state’s colleges and universities will need to double the number of credentials awarded each year.
On this week's Capitol Access, Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System, discusses what it will take to get there.
Q: So, last year, about 40,000 credentials were awarded to students in Louisiana. To reach the 60% goal, that number would need to more than double, reaching about 85,000. What tools do universities need in order to achieve these goals?
You know, we have one of the nation's most effective financial aid programs out there in the form of TOPS. But TOPS works for traditional students. If we serve every traditional student available to us we won't come close to this number, so I think it's time we look at ways to incentivize adults to come back. When you think about working adults, that could come in the form of tax incentives for employers to do tuition reimbursements. The finance piece is part of it. The most important part is that we eliminate all the bureaucratic barriers that sometimes keep students from coming back. Think about a working adult who says, 'you know what, I've got to do better for myself. I'm going to go back to college." One of the first questions you're asked is to provide your immunizations records. I'm 50 years old. I don't have a clue where my immunizations records are. And while it's a simple thing to overcome, I don't have the time to figure out how to overcome it. We have coaches with Compete Louisiana who overcome all those things for you. They're a concierge to ensure that the process doesn't get in the way of the outcome, and the outcome is the ability to compete in this 21st century economy.
Q: And when we talk about the 40,000 credentials currently being awarded each year, we're talking about a bachelor's degree, an associate's degree, or even a trade certificate of some sort, correct?
Credentials of value. The community college system has been fantastic in creating industry-based certifications that work well for non-traditional students. All of those are valuable in the marketplace. They're the certificates, and the competencies associated with those certificates, that employers are telling us they need.
Q: About 44% of working-age adults in Louisiana currently have a college degree or certificate. That’s below the national average. What are the holes in the higher ed system that this new master plan is trying to plug?
I don't know if it's holes in our system. I think it's a legacy. When you have an economy that's been based in agriculture and energy—for a long time in those industries if you had a very strong work ethic you could be sucessful. But even those industries have been impacted by technology and they're demanding a more educated, more qualified workforce than ever before.
Q: This new plan focuses on graduating more minority students. Compared to other states, Louisiana struggles to graduate African American students from college. How do universities start addressing that gap?
It's about creating inclusive environments. That hasn't always been the case in Louisiana. In the last five to ten years, we've settled desegregation lawsuits in Louisiana. And that history is something we can't run from, but we have to be forward-looking and think about how we create an environment where we close those traditional equity gaps and focus on preparing all Louisianans for this immense opportunity that comes with the future of work.