The state’s new higher education master plan released Wednesday focuses on graduating more students and adults annually through significant shifts in practices.
The primary stated goal is to greatly increase the educational attainment of Louisiana adults to the Southern regional average by 2025.
The report also emphasizes the need to shift the college enrollment balance more toward the state’s community and technical colleges, although that does not have to occur at the expense of universities, said Jim Purcell, the state’s commissioner of higher education.
The plan is to shift the focus of the master plan, approved in 2011, from just “access” to college to a new, added emphasis on “success” as well, said Larry Tremblay, Louisiana Board of Regents associate commissioner for planning and research.
“We have to be as focused on success as we are on access,” Tremblay said.
The Board of Regents unanimously approved the new plan Wednesday.
In order to reach the Southern regional average for annual college graduates by 2025, the report states Louisiana must graduate 5 percent more bachelor’s degrees annually and 9 percent more associate degrees, certificates and diplomas.
Louisiana’s public colleges produced more than 38,000 total degrees and certificates this past year, which is a 28 percent increase in five years.
“It’s aspirational, but we think it’s obtainable,” Tremblay said.
“But if we do higher education the same way as we do now, certainly we won’t meet these goals,” said Purcell, who took over the job in March.
Nearly 75 percent of Louisiana adults have no college degree, according to the report.
Bringing many of those adults back to college is critical, Purcell said.
Many of the goals are in line with a 2009 master plan update that ended up being shelved during a time of state budget cuts to colleges.
The 2011 update was completed at the behest of state lawmakers.
The other two major goals in the plan are to invest strategically in university research and to achieve greater efficiency and accountability in college enterprises.
The plan outlines 18 objectives, 71 activities and 65 performance measures to achieve these goals.
Tremblay noted it does not help that roughly one-third of the state’s high school freshmen drop out before finishing.
So the plan also focuses on working better with secondary education to at least get the students falling through the cracks into the state’s growing community and technical colleges.
In 2000, only a little more than 20 percent of the state’s new college students were in two-year schools, he said.
Now, 44 percent of new freshmen start at community or technical colleges.
That shift is occurring without universities losing enrollment, Purcell said, which shows higher education can shift to meeting the state’s workforce needs without hurting traditional universities.
Graduation rates and ACT scores are all on the rise in Louisiana, Tremblay said.
Purcell agreed Louisiana is moving in the right direction, but the improvements need to occur more quickly because the state started so far behind other states.