A high school degree is "no longer the ceiling, but the floor" for an education, a state official told a group of local and state business, education and charity leaders gathered Thursday at the University of Louisiana Lafayette to talk about the importance of secondary education for the future of Louisiana.

Presented by One Acadiana, the series of talks by business and education leaders stressed the need for more post-high school education and the importance of supporting an effort in Lafayette to blow past 40 percent of the population having some form of secondary education or certification by 2025 to 55 percent.

"There's nothing more important in economic development as a whole than education," said Troy Wayman, president and CEO of One Acadiana. "If we can't provide a workforce to companies that are looking to expand in our area or new companies looking to move in, then they're not going to be successful and they're not going to want to come here."

The keynote speaker for the "55 by 25 event" was Kim Hunter Reed, commissioner of higher education for the state.

She applauded One Acadiana for getting local leaders together to pledge toward a goal to further education in Louisiana. The subject also was addressed by Natalie Harder, chancellor of South Louisiana Community College; Matt Stuller, founder and chairman of Stuller Inc.; David Callecod, president of Lafayette General Health, and others.

"Having a rate of 55 percent of people in the community having a work-related credential above high school level is very important. We're very focused on increasing educational attainment. We know educational attainment and workforce opportunity go hand-in-hand," Hunter Reed said.

A work-related credential can include a work certification, an industry-based certification, an associate's degree or a four-year degree. Hunter Reed said in today's economy a simple high school diploma or less just won't cut it in lifting up the working poor or those in poverty and that a high school degree is "no longer the ceiling, but the floor."

Hunter Reed added that support from local businesses, educational centers, faith groups and charities are needed to reach the 55 percent goal. Even if every student in higher education graduated, the goal would be out of reach. To accomplish the 55 or 60 percent mark would require advancing the education of those who have previously dropped out or older residents who need to go back to school to either further or change their career.

One of the major ideas Hunter Reed brought up included having K-12 education, secondary education and local business work together to support students in their studies with things like grants or scholarships, child care or workforce development. Another idea was that all paths toward prosperity need to be honored and not looked down upon, saying it's no longer "bachelor's or bust, but high school diploma and more."

"When we reach this educational goal, our community will be stronger, our citizens more educated, contributing more to your community and environment, healthier, taxpaying and working. Our communities will be much better," Hunter Reed said. It's about more than just a goal or a number, but a vision. That vision is for more people to move out of poverty into prosperity and recognizing that today in order to earn, you have to learn."

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