Jim Henderson

UL System President and CEO Jim Henderson addressing One Acadiana's monthly Luncheon about Compete LA on Thursday.

The University of Louisiana System has launched a new program with the goal of getting Louisianians back to school and finishing their bachelor's degree.

System President and CEO Jim Henderson discussed the details of the Compete LA program Thursday at a luncheon for One Acadiana members.

The program is designed to reengage the approximately 653,000 people in Louisiana with some college credits who dropped out before completing a degree. Henderson said the program is not only an opportunity to improve the state's second-to-last ranking on adults with a bachelor's degree or higher, but also an ability to work toward One Acadiana's goal of having 55% of Acadiana's population achieve a secondary education degree or certification by 2025. 

"For Louisiana to be competitive in the economy of the future, we have to develop a more educated workforce," Henderson said. "Compete LA is designed to cut through the red tape of returning to school and provide supports at every step of the student's educational journey."

Henderson warned that in the coming technological boom, repetitive and predictable jobs will be replaced by automation and workers in Louisiana will need to have valuable skills, to be quick and adaptable learners and to be able to think critically in ways robots cannot.

"The very nature of the work that we do requires a worker that can think at levels that haven't been required before. If you skill set is something that's repetitive and predictable, it will be automated. We need a workforce that can think critically, solve problems, communicate effectively, use technology and is culturally competent," Henderson said. "We knew that if we were going to make a difference in the state's educational attainment rate, we had to come up with a solution. And that's why we came up with Compete LA." 

By applying to Compete LA, the nearly one-in-five people in Louisiana who have some college but no degree will be matched with a coach who will evaluate the student's completed courses to create a streamlined degree path to help the student reenroll and complete their degree as quickly as possible while working around their schedule.

There are also ways businesses can partner with the program such as promoting employee benefits such as tuition reimbursement and debt repayment, providing internship opportunities and sponsoring Compete LA.

The program has 51 degree programs ranging from business and education to health care and the humanities. Compete LA was introduced in May and has already engaged with more than 1,100 students, 600 of whom have more than 120 course credits. One student is already going to graduate this winter.

"One Acadiana is proud to support the UL System's Compete LA initiative," One Acadiana President and CEO Troy Wayman said. "Reengaging adults to return to school to complete their degrees will boost their earnings potential and help fill job openings and is critical for the Acadiana region if we are going to reach our '55 by 25' goal."

The United States has a 30.9% educational attainment rate at the level of Bachelor's Degree or higher. Louisiana sits at a 23.4% rate.

The University of Louisiana System is made up of nine universities across the state: Grambling State University, Louisiana Tech University, Nicholls State University, Northwestern State University, McNeese State University, Southeastern State University, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the University of Louisiana at Monroe and the University of New Orleans.

Students interested in completing their degree can apply at CompeteLA.org or through the program's mobile app. They can also text CompeteLA to 58052.

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Email Dan Boudreaux at dboudreaux@theadvocate.com.