St. Landry part of initiative toward continuing education

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

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Some sort of education beyond high school will soon be essential for anyone looking for a good job, and the prospects for the growth of the south Louisiana economy will be tied directly to the number of people who get that education.


That’s the finding of several studies looking at the region, and the reason for an ambitious program called “55 by 25” to help and encourage residents of Acadiana to seek at least an associate degree from a two-year college or certification of mastery in a skilled trade.

The program is spearheaded by One Acadiana, an economic development agency based in Lafayette that promotes Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, and Vermilion parishes. It has set what CEO Troy Waynan has called a “stretch goal” of enabling 55 percent of the adults in Acadiana to get a “postsecondary degree. Certificate, or other high-quality credentials” by 2025.

Project planners met recently with St. Landry educators and interested citizens to discuss the plan.

“For many years, the blessings of the oil and gas industry — where one could earn a good living without a postsecondary degree — created an environment where higher education was desirable but not essential.,” according to One Acadiana planners. “As our regional economy evolves, many more of our citizens will need postsecondary degrees and high-quality credentials to equip them for good jobs and good wages.”

A recent national study by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce found that 65 percent of the jobs in the U.S. will require education beyond high school by 2020. A One Acadiana report found that roughly 55 percent of job openings in Louisiana will require some form of college or technical education by that time.

Currently, 24.2 percent of adults in the nine-parish One Acadiana region, have an associate (two-year) degree or above, and only 19 percent have a bachelor’s (four-year) degree or above. Nationwide, Louisiana ranks 48th among the states in the number of adults (25 years old or older) with an associate degree or higher.

A 2014 study by the State Board of Education found that only 28 percent of Louisiana high school students get a two-year or four-year college degree. Of the remaining 72 percent, some do not finish high school, some finish but do not go to college at all, and some go to college but do not complete work for a degree or other certificate.

Parishes working alone cannot turn around these numbers, in the view of Natalie Harder, chancellor of South Louisiana Community College and a leader of the One Acadiana working group.  “We have got to start working together.”

As a first step, One Acadiana is compiling data in what it calls a “dashboard” to “collect and report on the latest educational attainment data for our region.” According to Anna Osland, One Acadiana manager of policy initiatives. The data can be found at oneacadiana.org/education.

The data will be used by One Acadiana’s Workforce and Education Committee to develop specifics of how to achieve the 55 by 25 goal. The current plan is to formally launch the initiative early next year, Harder said.

St. Landry school superintendent Patrick Jenkins said he welcomes the initiative, pointing out that technical certificates and credentials are becoming more important as more students opt for career paths that do not lead through college. He said St. Landry technical schools in Eunice and Washington are “bursting at the seams.”

He also pointed out that several St. Landry students are on track to receive a high school diploma and an associate degree at the same time through new programs that allow them to take some courses for college credit.

St. Landry economic development director Bill Rodier has noted that one of the principal goals for the parish is to provide “students at every level and of every capacity the fullest access to the best possible academic, career, and life education.”

Over the past several years, postsecondary schools in St. Landry, including the T.H. Harris campus of SLCC and LSU-Eunice have begun expanding and tailoring course offerings to meet the needs of local business and industry.

Three things to know about this story:

  1. An ambitious program called “55 by 25” seeks to help and encourage residents of Acadiana to get at least an associate degree from a two-year college, or certification of mastery in a skilled trade.
  2. As a first step, One Acadiana is compiling data in what it calls a “dashboard” to “collect and report on the latest educational attainment data for our region.”
  3. Several St. Landry students are on track receive both a high school diploma and an associate degree through new programs that allow high school students to take some courses for college credit.

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