The COVID-19 crisis has dashed Louisiana’s economy, crippled many businesses, and disrupted the lives of every citizen of our state. It has also had a significant impact on all aspects of education. There are many things education and school leaders are doing to address the issues facing our students in this unprecedented time. CABL has outlined its priorities in early education, K-12 education, and postsecondary education. Today a look at postsecondary education.
Our colleges and universities were, perhaps, in the best position to pivot to online learning after campuses across the state were shuttered, but many issues remain. The digital divide that is most apparent in K-12 education, also exists to some degree in higher education. And the dramatic loss of jobs has only underscored the need for Louisiana to significantly raise its education attainment levels and strategically target investment in short-term worker training and re-training. To that end, CABL has developed these priorities in postsecondary education:
- Each postsecondary institution in the state should have plans and protocols in place to ensure the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff when they are able to return for in-person classes.
- Given the scope of the digital divide the corona virus has exposed in Louisiana, a significant amount of funding from the federal stimulus should be targeted to investments in technology. This would include broadband connectivity and devices for both K-12 and higher education, but also strong professional development to instructors in best practices for online learning. Much of higher education has experience in distance learning, but that varies by institution, instructor, and class. It is now necessary that almost every class that had traditionally been unavailable online now have a distance learning component or options for minimal student/faculty contact.
- At a time when approximately 350,000 workers remain unemployed and many of them are considering upgrading their skills to move into a new industry, Louisiana must provide the quick-turnaround workforce training they need to go back to work. It is imperative that federal stimulus dollars and other state resources such as Rapid Response funds, be targeted into a highly-focused workforce development initiative. This training should be aligned to regional workforce needs and should also consider new-demand jobs, particularly in the health care field, that are a direct result of the corona crisis.
- The momentum that was building for the expansion of dual enrollment opportunities for all high school students must not be sidelined by the current situation. Dual enrollment is an important educational strategy for Louisiana. It helps students in high school by exposing them to college-level instruction or skills training leading to a postsecondary credential, while making college more affordable and shortening the time to earn a credential. Participation must continue to grow.
- During this confusing time, it is important that counselors work to ensure that graduating high school seniors have completed the FAFSA, the federal form needed to qualify for college financial aid including everything from TOPS to PELL grants. The graduation process this year has been disrupted enough without seniors experiencing barriers to college because of unfinished paper work.
- Louisiana’s Master Plan for postsecondary education placed a sharp focus on increasing the education attainment levels of our citizens. The COVID crisis shows how critical it is to maintain that focus and use the federal stimulus dollars targeted for higher education to creatively build upon that. Studies show that those most impacted by the shutdown of the nation’s economy are low-skilled workers employed in low-paying jobs. Not only are they among the first to join the jobless ranks, the fact that they often live on the financial edge has repercussions across the economy. If we were a more highly-educated state, with a more diverse economy, the economic impact of this health crisis on Louisiana would be much different. The state as a whole should maintain a strong focus on the Master Plan attainment goals during this time.
- The COVID crisis reminds us that our university-based research and training programs are a strategic asset in critical times. Our in-state medical schools produce the vast majority of our in-state doctors and pharmacists. Our universities are engaged in vaccine testing and the production of a variety of PPE through their use of 3-D printing. And our research institutions, like the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, are studying some of the chronic diseases that have proven to be the underlying causes of the high number of COVID-19 deaths in Louisiana. As budget cuts are contemplated, these assets, and the role they play in the health and safety of our citizens, should not be neglected.