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UL System Initiative Helps LA to Compete

 

Leigh Guidry

Lafayette Daily Advertiser USA TODAY NETWORK

The University of Louisiana System is launching an effort to help
students who never finished college get back to school.

Maybe the freshman’s parent lost a job and he had to return home.
Maybe she had a baby. Maybe college wasn’t right for him at 18, and
now he’s ready but in debt or working full-time or just doesn’t know
how to apply.

No matter the reason, there are 653,000 adults in Louisiana — one in
five — with some college credit but no degree.

That number breaks down by region into:

73,296 in Acadiana 43,110 in the Kisatchie-Delta Region (Central
Louisiana) 41,282 in the North Delta Region (Northeast Louisiana)
88,163 in District Seven (northwest Louisiana) 180,141 in the Greater
New Orleans Region 164,619 in the Capital Region 50,129 in the South
Central Region and 43,241 in the Calcasieu Region.

The nine-university system wants to eliminate barriers like these that
often keep people from re-enrolling.

How?

By creating a one-stop shop that connects potential students to online
and hybrid degree programs at universities they already know — perhaps
where they started years ago — and then connecting applicants to a
coach who cuts through red tape and encourages you throughout your
college career.

This is the gist of Compete Louisiana or CompeteLA.org, where you can
search degree programs and universities — Grambling State, Louisiana
Tech, McNeese State, Nicholls State, Northwestern State, Southeastern
Louisiana University, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University
of Louisiana at Monroe and University of New Orleans.

Barriers come in all sizes. Sometimes it’s institutional debt that
prevents a student from getting a transcript “It just takes one ounce
of frustration that says, ‘I’m not going to do it,’” UL System
President and CEO Jim Henderson said.

CompeteLA coaches help with that. They help students to apply and find
programs that are right for them, helping them decide among online,
hybrid (some online and some in-class) or eight-week courses.

Coaches do the leg work like making phone calls to get transcripts or
find local options for childcare, Henderson said.

Once they’re in classes, coaches encourage students with messages,
line up tutoring and hold them accountable with task lists on a mobile
app. The CompeteLA website is live, and the app is coming in early
June.

The system has two in-house coaches now and plans to hire another.
Research from other states with similar programs, like Florida and
Mississippi, claims a good ratio of one coach to a case load of 400 to
500 students, Henderson said.

Why?

Research shows a direct correlation between level of educational
attainment (highest level of degree someone has completed) and wage or
economic status.

And today’s work looks different than yesterday’s, requiring new
skills to learn thanks to rapidly changing technology.

For these reasons, “we need to have a more educated populous. We talk
about ‘the future of work.’ It’s not the future. It’s now,” Henderson
said.

That’s where CompeteLA comes in.

“Completion is a means to an end,” Henderson said, which is to compete
in today’s highly digital workforce.

Another “end” is the transformation that higher educational attainment
can have on the things that consistently place Louisiana close to last
in national rankings. Research has shown education reduces poverty,
improves health outcomes and increases economic growth.

“Think of how it transforms Louisiana,” Henderson said.

His system has set lofty goals, like “producing the most educated
generation in the history of Louisiana,” in its strategic framework
released in 2017. Specifically, a goal is to produce 150,000 new
graduates prepared for life and career success.

Louisiana’s annual crop of less than 40,000 high school graduates —
the traditional incoming freshmen at ULS institutions — won’t fill
that gap alone, which is another imperative to look to other
populations to enroll.

“We will never close this gap with the traditional age population,”
Henderson said. “We’ve got to find a way to reach the adult
population.”

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