WISE Fund plans move forward _lowres

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Louisiana Board of Regents Chairman W. Clinton 'Bubba' Rasberry addresses members of the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge on the state of higher education in Louisiana at Boudreaux's last year.

LSU is preparing to add tenure-track faculty positions in computer science, chemical engineering, petroleum engineering, kinesiology and other fields.

Southern University at New Orleans will beef up its computer information systems program with lab upgrades and assistantships to help students pay for books and tuition.

Similarly, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette will provide dozens of new scholarships for students in computer science, engineering and nursing.

Plans for how Louisiana’s colleges and universities will tap into and use $40 million the Legislature put into a new workforce-targeted competitive pool of money this year are starting to come together.

The state Board of Regents is expected to formally approve the plans at a December meeting, but members have authorized a committee to sign off on them next month so schools can move forward with implementation, which will infuse the cash-strapped campuses with new funding for high-demand fields.

“The point of this is to keep the ball moving,” Board of Regents Chairman Clinton “Bubba” Rasberry said. “It’s essential that our systems are able to move forward with this.”

Plans for the LSU System, Southern University System and Community and Technical Colleges System were approved by the WISE Council, an oversight board for the fund, during a recent meeting. Schools across the state stand to tap into the new resource.

The University of Louisiana System signed off last week on a plan for its WISE share that will be presented to the WISE Council in coming days. The council’s approval is largely a formality.

The plans span several fields and strategic efforts — from scholarships to new faculty hires to new lab equipment.

In addition to the plans for LSU, SUNO and UL-Lafayette, Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus will redesign coursework to meet demands in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and the College of Business. The University of New Orleans will increase its degree production in accounting, computer science and engineering. Baton Rouge Community College plans to use about $109,000 of the funding to add 36 students to its diesel mechanics program.

Delgado Community College in New Orleans is targeting its funding toward architectural and civil drafters. Delgado estimates that with $147,000 in WISE money, it can produce 25 certificate holders in the first year who can go on to earn salaries of about $53,000 each.

South Louisiana Community College in Lafayette will redesign and expand its welding lab.

The WISE Fund was hailed as a success this legislative session after colleges and universities faced repeated budget cuts in recent years. Gov. Bobby Jindal praised the plan and had a ceremonial bill signing to bring attention to it.

It’s directly tied to the state’s workforce needs, and higher education leaders have spent several months developing a plan for how to best use the fund.

“Because of the many companies expanding in our state, tens of thousands of jobs are now in the pipeline that must be filled, and our challenge is to ensure we have the skilled workforce to fill these jobs of the future,” Jindal said in touting a recent private contribution to the fund.

About $12.1 million of the money legislators put into the fund came from federal Community Development Block Grant funding, so it faces additional restrictions. Another $11 million can go only toward equipment and construction costs because it came from the state construction budget.

To qualify for any funding, schools will have to put up a 20 percent private match from a private partner, either cash or an in-kind contribution — a move meant to foster better ties to the business community.

The Louisiana Community and Technical College System announced earlier this month that JPMorgan Chase had pledged $1 million to match its WISE Fund dollars. LCTCS’s overall plan outlines additional efforts across campuses to secure private partnerships to help it access nearly $12 million that the Board of Regents has dedicated to that system.

LSU needs about $3.5 million to match the state’s $14.1 million in WISE dollars. To get there, LSU’s WISE plan depends on $200,000 each from the Patrick Taylor Foundation and the J. Bennett Johnston Science Foundation. Additional funding has been identified through private foundations tied to the university, including $1.42 million from the LSU Foundation, $400,000 from the LSUHealth Shreveport Foundation and $500,000 each from the Pennington Medical Foundation and the Pennington Biomedical Research Foundation.

According to the Southern System’s plan, the cost-sharing component is still being worked out and will be added when it is finalized. SUNO reported that it has reached out to several companies that have committed to providing internships and other in-kind contributions, which are allowed in place of cash under the WISE model. It needs about $500,000 worth to access the entire $2 million set aside for that system.

The University of Louisiana System also has outlined several partnerships to help it pull down its $11.5 million. UL-Lafayette will create several named professorships to honor partners, including Hamilton Medical Group, Lafayette Automobile Dealers, Lockheed Martin and Coca-Cola, among others. The university also named scholarships in high-demand fields for private partners.

UNO has secured $295,000 in WISE funding from Entergy New Orleans and $300,000 from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of Louisiana state government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.