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Dr. Natalie Harder, chancellor of South Louisiana Community College, speaks during The AdvocateÕs Acadiana Economic Outlook Summit Tuesday, February 19, 2019, at the Picard Center in Lafayette, La.

With one year down and only five to go, One Acadiana's goal of getting 55% of Acadiana adults to earn a postsecondary degree or certification is making slow, but steady progress, One Acadiana officials reported Friday.

Across the nine-parish region, the 55 by 25 initiative has seen growth and collaboration, growing from 100 to 160 participating businesses in the first year. However, there is still a ways to go over the next five years for Acadiana to reach One Acadiana's lofty goal, said Natalie Harder, chancellor at South Louisiana Community College.

"We all recognize across Acadiana that we have got to fix this issue. We've got to address this crisis," Harder said. "Our individual organizations and companies and us individually can't do this alone. We have got to stick together and stay focused."

Louisiana ranks 48th in the United States for adults 25 or older having an associates degree or higher, with Acadiana being fifth our of eight regions in the state for adults achieving this milestone. At the current rate, Acadiana will fall 12% short of One Acadiana's goal unless the area's government, education and business communities work together to change these numbers, according to Dakota Pawlicki with the Lumina Foundation.

Local businesses and organizations such as the Master's Guild of Acadiana and Stuller have been leading the charge with apprenticeship programs, while others such as the University of Louisiana System have launched the Complete LA app to help Louisiana residents who dropped out before completing a degree.

In order to achieve One Acadiana's goal, two things must happen, Harder said.

First, One Acadiana's plan calls for more programs are needed to help students achieve some form of higher education while still in high school and, second, adults who haven't completed secondary education need to be helped and encouraged to go back to school.

Programs such as South Louisiana Community College's Dual Enrollment, which lets high school students earn college credit and even associate's degrees before graduating, and Jump Start Summers, which allows students to work summers at a variety of local businesses to earn college credit and money while learning more about their potential future careers, make the nearly nearly 800 students that enrolled last year more likely to succeed in earning a postsecondary degree, according to data provided by One Acadiana.

Meanwhile, Compete LA has seen more than 400 inquiries over the four months since it went live and programs like the Archways to Opportunity programs from McDonald's and McLaff have helped adults go back to college and go on to higher paying jobs within the company or onto others according to Chris Krampe, owner/operator of MacLaff Inc.

The Archways to Opportunity program is a program that McDonald's offers its employees to help them get a high school diploma or college degree or help employees learn English as a second language so they can work their way up through the company. To date, MacLaff Inc., the local McDonald's franchise company, has given out over $230,000 in Archways money to employee students and has over 115 students in the program currently.

"It's been an incredible program for us... It's been a great tool for us for recruiting and retention and staffing. People say that if we help educate these people, they'll leave McDonald's and we've had a few that have, but if someone gets to achieve their educational goals and leaves, that's good turnover and I'm happy for them," Krampe said.

One Acadiana is pursuing several partnerships in 2020, according to Troy Wayman, One Acadiana president and CEO. They include the Educate 4 Opportunity initiative, which helps educate and train adults to fill state workforce needs, and the Degrees When Due initiative, which helps states better support adults with some college, but no degree.

The organization is also working with Bridging the Talent Gap in an employer and employee engagement campaign through a two-month survey being conducted at OneAcadiana.org/survey.

"We are excited by the progress made by the 55 by 25 initiative in its first year," Wayman said.  "It's clear that the goals of the initiative are resonating, and we look forward to keeping the momentum going in 2020."

Acadiana Business Today: With just five years to reach its goal, One Acadiana's 55 by 25 initiative making progress; Pelican State Portfolio performance falls short of Wall Street standard

Email Dan Boudreaux at dboudreaux@theadvocate.com.