Statewide, we have a deficiency in the skill levels of our workforce and in the extent to which existing skills are credentialed. Whether those credentials are measured in awarded degrees from higher education institutions or in certificates evidencing job-specific training and competency, the fact remains that only 44.2% of our working- age population has a degree or a certificate, well below the national average of 47.6%. Our challenge is to augment the credentials of the state’s workforce, increasing the percentage of higher education attainment. This corresponds to higher incomes for the workforce and greater productivity for their employers.
Louisiana’s economic future is inextricably linked to its talent pipeline. In fact, 96% of Louisiana’s workforce is comprised of Louisiana residents who must be prepared for an evolving economy. By 2020, the Georgetown Center projections indicate that 65% of jobs nationally, and 56% of jobs in Louisiana, will require education beyond a high school diploma. It is estimated that 85% of jobs that will be available in 2030 have not yet been created or even imagined. This atmosphere of uncertainty and dynamic change provides a mandate for urgent and informed action by those who develop talent in our state.
The Board of Regents, along with the state’s higher education leaders, recognizes the significant work yet to be done. Louisiana continues to struggle with high poverty, low educational attainment, uneven access to higher education, and a need for increased and diverse high-wage employment opportunities. When it comes to talent development ours is a three-fold challenge:
- expand access to and success in completing postsecondary education,
- eliminate persistent and damaging equity gaps, and
- significantly increase the education level of adults.
Success will position Louisiana as a leader in innovation, opportunity, and talent.
Expanding access and student success requires improvement in the traditional education pipeline and an expansion of it as well. Our current education system has too many leaks – we are losing students who never graduate high school, never enroll in college or, when they do, do not persist or complete. Of 100 incoming 9th graders, 78 will graduate high school. Of these, 45 will enter college immediately after graduation, and a meager 18 will earn a postsecondary credential within 150% of the standard time of completion: three years for an associate’s degree; six years for a baccalaureate degree. These numbers must improve.
Erasing equity gaps is also critical to our success. In Louisiana, white students are significantly more likely than African Americans to complete a postsecondary credential: in 2017, 20.6% of the white student population who attended college earned credentials, compared with 15.8% of the African American student population. In fact, according to Education Trust, Louisiana has the lowest degree attainment rate – 20.7% – for
African American adults, of the 41 states included in their latest State of Higher Education Equity report. Pipeline leakage for African American students is significantly worse than for the state as a whole: of 100 African American 9th graders, 73 will graduate high school, 40 will enter college immediately, and only 9 will complete within 150% of standard time to degree. This gap represents a major loss of potential.
Finally, 47% of working-age Louisianians, approximately 1.15 million, hold a high school diploma or less as their highest level of education. That means nearly half of the state’s working-age population is at risk of not meeting the demands of the 21st-century workforce.
This could result in them being unemployed or underemployed and in need of new educational opportunities to advance and thrive. Despite the high percentage who left education before college, currently only 4.5% of adults 25-49 without a baccalaureate are enrolled in a postsecondary institution, the second-lowest percentage in the nation. Serving our returning adults effectively and affordably in order to enable them to receive a first or follow-up credential must be a priority for our state.
Collectively, these data show that in Louisiana postsecondary education is being successfully delivered to too few and unevenly, leaving entire segments behind. Getting these populations to and through college will begin to maximize the tremendous potential in the state.