State program aims to curb total of non-degreed workers

John Dupont
Compete LA, a program geared to help bolster the number of Louisiana workers with college degrees, could make Louisiana more competitive through rapid technological advancements in the workplace, according to Dr. Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System.

A program instituted by universities of Louisiana aims to reengage a large part of the state population as technology intensifies demands for the workforce.

Compete LA is a program designed to re-engage state residents who have college education but no degree. It will provide course schedules and delivery, along with effective support systems through its personal coaching model.

The program will help enhance the workforce as the rapid advancement of technology heightens the demand for a more educated workforce more than ever before, said University of Louisiana System President Dr. Jim Henderson, who addressed the Press Club of Baton Rouge at its weekly meeting Monday.

We need to have a solution, and we think that our system of institutions that serve 92,000 students annually can provide that,” he said.

It can’t come from the traditional-aged students. Instead, it needs to focus on an older age bracket.

Only 23.40 percent of the Louisiana working population has earned a bachelor's degree or higher, in comparison to the 30.30 percent of the national average.

The workforce population that has been out of college 10 years or longer comprises the biggest shortfall in the workforce.

"We have to serve the population we have not traditionally served," Henderson said.

Approximately 653,000 of the Louisiana adults have some college, but no degree.

"It's a quandary possibly more challenging than the student debt crisis," Henderson said.

Many went to proprietary schools or private institutions which now may be defunct, or with credentials that bear lesser value. Others have the credits but no work experience.

"You don't get the advantage in the workplace that comes from having that college degree," Henderson said. "We realize this is a challenge, but an opportunity as well."

By 2020, 55 percent of jobs in Louisiana will require a postsecondary degree. Without a qualified workforce, Louisiana businesses will face the challenge of remaining competitive in the 21st century economy, he said.

"The college degree is the ticket to social mobility and economic prosperity, which is why the Universities of Louisiana are dedicated to developing the talent necessary to elevate Louisiana to her fullest potential," Henderson said.

Compete LA offers 32 degreed programs and will expand to 50 next year. The program could have as many as 100 in the next few years, he said.

Sixty-five percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 do not exist today, which increases the need for additional education, Henderson said.

"If we don't take advantage of opportunities today, we will be looking down the line at how to fund universal basic income," he said. "I don't think that’s going to happen."

The program allows online registration, which will match the applicant with a coach who will evaluate the degree path. Upon re-enrollment, the student and coach remain connected until graduation.

Compete LA has already formed business partners to help employees with tuition reimbursement programs and student debt repayment.

"The low number of graduates, in the long run, is a bigger problem than student debt," Henderson said.

Industry partners also offer program sponsorship and internship opportunities.

The success of the program will depend upon partnerships with business and industry, Henderson said.

"We want industry to be a part of our vision to increase educational attainment in Louisiana," he said. "We're a long way from where we should be, but this is a start."