Adult education to be focus in second year of One Acadiana’s 55 by 25 initiative

by | Jan 13, 2020 | 55 by 25 Acadiana, Workforce & Education

In year two of the mission to increase the number of adults who benefit from higher education, the focus turns to attracting non-traditional students to earn college degrees or professional credentials.

“A valuable credential can change lives,” said Dakota Pawlicki, strategy officer for community mobilization at Lumina Foundation.

Today, 47% in Louisiana and nearly 39% in Acadiana have a high school diploma or less. One Acadiana is spearheading efforts to change those statistics, a goal of 55% of Acadiana adults who have earned degrees or credentials by 2025.

Pawlicki defined a “high-quality” credential as one that leads to a livable wage and is connected to further learning, something the student could use right away and build on.

“We’re getting the outcomes our education systems are created to do, and that’s scary,” Pawlicki said. “We have to change the system.”

Redesigning systems to reach adults who didn’t finish school is a major focus going into the second year of One Acadiana’s initiative.

One Acadiana gathered about 160 people Friday to explain and encourage the effort at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

“You are the only region in the state of Louisiana to set an attainment goal,” state Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said. “We need more regions in the state doing what you’re doing.”

It aligns with the Board of Regents’ own goal of “60 by 30,” or 60% of Louisiana adults with a credential by 2030.

“They will be left out of the evolving economy,” Reed said. “There are not enough traditional high school students going to college and not enough college students finishing what they started.”

She talked of eliminating barriers like transportation, lack of access, unaffordable tuition and equity gaps.

“We cannot be satisfied with where we are, when some have opportunities and some do not and when the knowledge economy requires so much more,” Reed said.

Removing such barriers will take collaboration among private, public and social programs and redesigning the system, as Pawlicki said.

Together they find ways to make tuition more affordable, support students, make clear to students and employers the direct benefit or outcome, and come up with more flexible class or work schedules, they said.

These credentials impact how employable workers are, an ever-present issue for local businesses that are growing like LHC Group. The national company is expanding its headquarters in Lafayette to house a total of 1,100 employees locally.

LHC Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Mark Willis said the company is “struggling to fill” open positions — 3,000 nationwide and 150 locally — with jobs ranging from IT to clinicians to administrative personnel.

“Our greatest challenge is not in building, but in finding, recruiting and retaining skilled employees,” Willis said.

One way Reed and One Acadiana plan to reach adult learners is through a a $100,000 grant from the National Governors Association to implement an employer-to-employee survey. It will be done in partnership with the Louisiana Board of Regents and South Louisiana Community College.

“The Acadiana region is primed for the work,” Reed said, citing the demographics of the area as well as the “commitment of the entire region” to this effort.

The survey will be a way for them to figure out “how to support adult learners trying to squeeze a little education into complex lives” that might include homelessness, poverty, dependents or multiple jobs.

“We will test it here and then share it with the rest of the state,” Reed said. “And we will share the 55 by 25 initiative to other regions and ask ‘Why not you, too?’ … Our state will improve.”

Other areas of focus include increasing dual enrollment offerings for high schools and connecting with employers through The Graduate! Network’s employer-to-employee survey and dashboard.

Friday’s summit also served as a chance to highlight people and progress from the first year of the effort and to reveal next stages.

A new “55 by 25 Accelerator Award” went to St. Landry Parish schools Superintendent Patrick Jenkins and leaders of the Love Our Schools campaign for their work to “accelerate progress” toward this goal.

Jenkins has led his parish since 2016, and this fall he helped launch the St. Landry Parish Collegiate Technical Academy. More than 200 students are enrolled.

This initiative with South Louisiana Community College allows dual-enrollment students to earn college technical diplomas in a variety of programs while on a high school campus.

Love Our Schools raised more than $1.3 million and engaged more than 3,000 volunteers to support public schools in Lafayette over the summer, and the effort continues with more school projects taking place now. It was founded by Love Acadiana and the William C. Schumacher Family Foundation with support from other donors and partners.

The 55 by 25 initiative began in January 2019 and targeted four areas — kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading, high school to college transition, and credential completion.

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