Didn’t finish college? New UL System initiative aims to help Louisianans compete

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(, Lafayette Daily Advertiser)

The University of Louisiana System is launching an effort to help students who never finished college get back to school.

Maybe the freshman’s parent lost a job and he had to return home. Maybe she had a baby. Maybe college wasn’t right for him at 18, and now he’s ready but in debt or working full-time or just doesn’t know how to apply.

No matter the reason, there are 653,000 adults in Louisiana — one in five — with some college credit but no degree.

That number breaks down by region into:

  • 73,296 in Acadiana
  • 43,110 in the Kisatchie-Delta Region (Central Louisiana)
  • 41,282 in the North Delta Region (Northeast Louisiana)
  •  88,163 in District Seven (northwest Louisiana)
  • 180,141 in the Greater New Orleans Region
  • 164,619 in the Capital Region
  • 50,129 in the South Central Region
  • and 43,241 in the Calcasieu Region

The nine-university system wants to eliminate barriers like these that often keep people from re-enrolling. 

No matter the reason, there are 653,000 adults in Louisiana — one in five — with some college credit but no degree. These maps break the figure down by parish and region.

4 Photos

CompeteLA: Those with some college but no degree by region

How?

By creating a one-stop shop that connects potential students to online and hybrid degree programs at universities they already know — perhaps where they started years ago — and then connecting applicants to a coach who cuts through red tape and encourages you throughout your college career.

This is the gist of Compete Louisiana or CompeteLA.org, where you can search degree programs and universities — Grambling State, Louisiana Tech, McNeese State, Nicholls State, Northwestern State, Southeastern Louisiana University, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of Louisiana at Monroe and University of New Orleans.

Barriers come in all sizes. Sometimes it’s institutional debt that prevents a student from getting a transcript

“It just takes one ounce of frustration that says, ‘I’m not going to do it,'” UL System President and CEO Jim Henderson said.

CompeteLA coaches help with that. They help students to apply and find programs that are right for them, helping them decide among online, hybrid (some online and some in-class) or eight-week courses.

Coaches do the leg work like making phone calls to get transcripts or find local options for childcare, Henderson said.

Once they’re in classes, coaches encourage students with messages, line up tutoring and hold them accountable with task lists on a mobile app. The CompeteLA website is live, and the app is coming in early June. 

The system has two in-house coaches now and plans to hire another. Research from other states with similar programs, like Florida and Mississippi, claims a good ratio of one coach to a case load of 400 to 500 students, Henderson said.

Why?

Research shows a direct correlation between level of educational attainment (highest level of degree someone has completed) and wage or economic status.

And today’s work looks different than yesterday’s, requiring new skills to learn thanks to rapidly changing technology.

For these reasons, “we need to have a more educated populous. We talk about ‘the future of work.’ It’s not the future. It’s now,” Henderson said.

That’s where CompeteLA comes in. 

“Completion is a means to an end,” Henderson said, which is to compete in today’s highly digital workforce.

Another “end” is the transformation that higher educational attainment can have on the things that consistently place Louisiana close to last in national rankings. Research has shown education reduces poverty, improves health outcomes and increases economic growth.

“Think of how it transforms Louisiana,” Henderson said.

His system has set lofty goals, like “producing the most educated generation in the history of Louisiana,” in its strategic framework released in 2017. Specifically, a goal is to produce 150,000 new graduates prepared for life and career success.

Louisiana’s annual crop of less than 40,000 high school graduates — the traditional incoming freshmen at ULS institutions — won’t fill that gap alone, which is another imperative to look to other populations to enroll.

“We will never close this gap with the traditional age population,” Henderson said. “We’ve got to find a way to reach the adult population.”

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