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Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Kim Hunter Reed.

Job upheaval sparked by the pandemic and natural disasters reinforces the need for Louisiana to dramatically improve its education levels by 2030, Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said Wednesday.

"The only way we will disaster-proof, recession-proof or pandemic-proof our citizens economically is to get them the education and training they need so they can literally weather any storm," Reed told the Louisiana Board of Regents, which oversee colleges and universities statewide.

The state in 2019 launched an ambitious effort to raise the number of working-age adults with a postsecondary credential to 60%, which is nearly 12 percentage points higher than today.

However, that push has been hindered by the coronavirus pandemic, historic hurricanes in 2020 and 2021 and periodic flooding statewide.

"This has not been be a COVID/Ida conversation," Reed said. "We have been in a major disruption for the past year and a half."

Educational attainment grew by only .8% from 2019 to 2020, from 47.3% to 48.1%.

"We are moving the number," Reed said. "We are not moving it as fast as we want to."

Also, the number of college completers fell by 500 in 2021, and if that trend continues the state would have turn out more than 21,000 completers per year to meet its 2030 goal.

"The 2020 and 2021 disasters didn't cause the gaps we see in education in Louisiana, they illuminated them," Reed said. 

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The percentage of Black students enrolled in college barely moved: from 29.2% in 2019 to 29.3% today.

The number of Black residents who earned a postsecondary credential rose from 9,821 in 2019 to 11,827 this year, according to figures compiled by the Board of Regents.

State aid for colleges and universities rose by $175 million earlier this year, the first such increase in 13 years.

Need-based college grants rose by $11 million and Reed said dual enrollment – college classes offered to high school students – is finally part of the conversation.

"Most people understand the value of dual enrollment," she said.

The state is spending $2 million in federal stimulus funds to expand access to reduced or no-cost textbooks used for dual enrollment.

Also, scholarships are being offered to students within 30 hours of completing their degree requirements, with priority given to those seeking diplomas in health care or STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.