A Master Plan for Post-Secondary Education to Move Louisiana Forward

Last week the Board of Regents released its new Master Plan for Higher Education. It’s a bold plan with the type of goal for higher education that’s long overdue – to raise the education attainment level of citizens in our state so that 60-percent of working-age adults hold a college degree or high-value credential by 2030.

Achieving that goal is no small task. Currently only about 44-percent of our adult citizens have a degree or credential of value. In Louisiana, that amounts to more than a million adults with no credential beyond high school and more than 300,000 of them without even a high school degree.

So raising that level to 60-percent by 2030 will require a sustained effort and an unwavering focus. Even as high school graduation rates continue to rise to more than 80-percent, we will never come close to reaching that goal through the high school pipeline.

To succeed, we must engage our adults, the vast majority of whom are currently in the workforce, and provide them access and opportunities to earn a credential while maintaining their current employment. This will require innovative approaches and creative thinking, but it has to be done.

Such an effort will clearly benefit hundreds of thousand of our citizens, where that newly-earned credential will be a ticket to better paying jobs. But it will also provide a significant boost to our economy because our employers need these highly-skilled workers to grow and create the jobs of the future. A recent Georgetown University study puts a fine point on this. By next year, 56-percent of the jobs in Louisiana will require a credential beyond a high school degree. Nationally, that number is 65-percent. That tells us that we have a significant workforce gap now, and without a major intervention, it will only continue to grow.

At the same time, we must realize there is also an equity gap in our state that we must work diligently to close. Half of African-American adults have a high school degree or less compared to 36-percent of whites. Only 16-percent of African-Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher. That’s not acceptable and will continue to hold us back.

So, the imperative is clear. We must give more of our adults, and particularly African-Americans, the keys to postsecondary education.

How do we do this? Some ideas are explored in our RESET Louisiana policy briefs on education. RESET is the nonpartisan election-year collaboration between CABL, the Public Affairs Research Council, and the Committee of 100 for Economic Development. Its goal is to focus the debate in this year’s elections on issues and ideas that will move Louisiana forward.

This big goal of improving education attainment is one of them. It’s embedded in our RESET recommendations and it’s one that every candidate for governor and the Legislature should be asked to embrace. Our elected officials, whoever they may be, should make this a key part of our mission as a state over the next decade.

Higher education in Louisiana has been hit hard by budget cuts over much of the last 10 years. Many of our institutions have had to take extraordinary steps just to survive. But it is refreshing that in 2019 the Board of Regents and, in fact, all of higher education is not looking backward, but moving ahead with a bold vision that is based not on inputs but outcomes.

Louisiana needs big goals. We need a moonshot or two to get us to the place where we know we ought to be. Perhaps those who want to be our future leaders can take a cue from higher education by offering us their Master Plan for the future prosperity of our state.

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