Two views from our higher education C100 members:

Just after Hurricane Katrina, and just before Hurricane Rita, I received a call from then LCTCS President Walter Bumphus. His message was direct and clear: we need a plan. Over the next weeks and months, we identified the priorities and crafted the solution. We knew the development of a workforce capable of restoring the physical infrastructure of Louisiana was paramount. With our industry partners at the table, we crafted the Pathways to Construction Employment Initiative. The plan was short on prescriptive details, but was crystal clear in defining the outcome. Over the next 24 months, we trained and credentialed more than 16,000 new entrants to the construction industry. Beyond the immediate benefits, we laid the groundwork for the restructuring of technical education at LCTCS, and crafted the framework that led to the workforce development system reforms of 2008, including the creation of the Workforce Rapid Response fund and Louisiana FastStart.

Today, we face a challenge of even greater breadth and scope that demands multiple coordinated plans of far greater scale in an environment of far greater uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only resulted in acute disruption of the economy, it has revealed in a stark way to the population at large chronic challenges we in higher education have been focused on for some time: disparities in access to quality healthcare, disparities in access to digital technologies and information, and a general lack of preparation for the future of work in the form of educational attainment. The latter will rapidly become increasingly obvious as this current crisis will only hasten the inevitable impact of the exponential advance of technology in the form of automation, robotics, and ubiquitous applications of artificial intelligence.

Fortunately, we have some pieces of the puzzle in place that give us a strategic advantage. Our Governor has displayed a crisis management acumen that is the envy of the nation. He has also been a strong and consistent advocate of higher education. We have a Commissioner of Higher Education whose convening prowess is without peer and whose passion for equitable talent development is infectious. Together with the four system presidents, and our LAICU partners when appropriate, we have a more coordinated higher education enterprise than ever. We are understanding and appreciative of the unique components of the enterprise we each oversee, but are coordinated in the execution of our discrete functions and collaborative in areas of shared interest.

In the short term, we need support:

  • Support for students and families, many of whom were already struggling to adapt to the shift from a state-supported higher education enterprise to a student-funded model
  • Support for adults and mid-career professionals who are faced with the realization their future is dependent on the development of new skills and/or finishing the degree path they started years earlier. The LCTCS focus on adult learners and the UL System’s CompeteLA degree completion effort are essential to the competitiveness of our state and its people
  • Support for research.
    • Research like that of our flagship institution and its health science centers that continues to produce extraordinary breakthroughs in highly relevant subjects with immediately applicable outcomes.
    • Research like the UL System’s statewide medical research organization, one of the first of its kind in utilizing the vast quantities of data collected from clinical programs to inform healthcare policy and practice
    • Research like that led by the Blanco Policy Center on a wide array of public policy interests
    • Research in digital and cyber technologies like that led by Louisiana Tech and its network of national security and private sector partners
    • Research in coastal restoration, urban renewal, biological sciences, agricultural technologies, etc. that is underway at all of our institutions
  • Support for higher education institutions that are the economic drivers and often the lifeblood of their communities and regional economies

In the long term, we need your continued engagement in our messaging, our planning, and our work. As the cloud of uncertainty begins to lift, that engagement will sharpen our focus and dramatically improve our outcomes. One thing of which I am certain: better days are ahead, and higher education will be key to securing that brighter future. When science mitigates the impact of this novel virus, it will be because of the researchers at our universities. If it is nature that ultimately renders the virus more manageable, as it has with similar viruses, it will be our experts who help us understand why and help us apply that understanding to the next episode. When our economy roars back to life, it will be powered by the work of our graduates, and it will be those graduates who create whatever form that new economy takes.

Thank you again for you longstanding and continued support.

Best,

Jim

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