LSU President F. King Alexander challenged fellow education leaders in Baton Rouge on Tuesday to set annual goals to increase the number of children who attend and graduate from college.
“We can measure this and hold ourselves accountable for doing this,” Alexander told a luncheon audience at Juban’s Restaurant.
It’s part of a larger effort by Alexander to increase college attendance, something he calls "Journey To College." Alexander led a similar initiative before coming to LSU, when was overseeing a university in Long Beach, California, what he called the “Long Island Promise.”
Alexander offered a starting goal Tuesday. He noted that roughly 65 percent of high school graduates go on to college in Louisiana. He suggested that LSU, the local public schools and Baton Rouge Community College set a goal to increase that to 75 percent.
Alexander spoke Tuesday at the invitation of East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake, who has a regular luncheon called "Lunch With The Supe." The event is organized by a private foundation that supports the school system.
Afterward, Drake said Tuesday was the first he’d heard about Alexander’s proposal. While not opposed, Drake said they would to discuss it more.
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Alexander has successfully reached out to Drake before with something he started in Long Beach.
In 2015, Drake accepted Alexander’s offer to bring all of the sixth-graders in the parish school system, about 3,200 of them, to tour LSU and get a taste of what college is like. The third annual sixth-grade field trip to LSU will occur over three days, Jan. 30, Feb. 6 and 8.
“Each year I ask (the sixth-graders), ‘How many of you have been to LSU’s campus?’ Alexander said. “You think that living in Baton Rouge, they’ve been to LSU all the time. Less than half the hands go up in the air every time I ask that question. Which means we have a lot of work to do.”
Alexander said he thinks such outreach efforts are helping, noting that applications to LSU are up this year, including from African-American students.
“It’s not one thing, it’s 100 little things,” Alexander said. “Yes, bringing every sixth-grader to campus is just one thing. But then we need to do things in seventh grade, eighth grade, and ninth grade.”
Brandon Smith, LSU’s community liaison officer, said afterwards that LSU is talking with BRCC and Southern University about having those schools play host to their own field trips for local seventh and eighth-graders in the future.
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Alexander said education leaders, and the local business community, have it within their power to increase college attendance.
The LSU president noted that the state government has steadily cut funding to higher education since 2009 and is discussing more steep cuts in higher education to close a looming $1 billion budget shortfall in 2018-19.
Alexander urged those at Tuesday's luncheon to push lawmakers to resolve that shortfall quickly. But he also said they should plan to work on their own to improve college attendance and graduation without expecting state assistance.
“I know the state is not going to help us with this,” he said. “I know the rhetoric with the budget and the fiscal cliff. We can do this ourselves.”