FILE - Louisiana State University main campus

Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge

The Louisiana Board of Regents on Wednesday approved a new master plan for higher education that calls for more than doubling the number of degrees and credentials awarded annually.

The Regents want to ensure that 60 percent of Louisiana’s working-age adults have a degree or high-value workforce credential by 2030. To reach that goal, colleges and universities will have to improve access for disadvantaged and nontraditional students, officials agreed.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said companies considering investing in Louisiana ask most often about the state’s “talent pipeline.”

“We have to ensure that access to the talent pipeline is equitable for all Louisianans,” he said.

Even if every child in school now eventually graduated from college, the state still wouldn’t get to 60 percent, said Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. Meeting the Regents’ goals will require reaching adults with some college credit who never earned a degree or credential, as well as those who never finished high school, he said.

LSU has its most diverse student body ever, one that “looks more like Louisiana every day,” LSU President F. King Alexander said. He said LSU plans to ramp up its online course offerings to serve 35,000 adults, compared to only about 5,000 now.

“We want to reach those adult populations who can’t relocate [to campus],” he said.

State lawmakers recently raised the age that young people can remain in foster care from 18 to 21. The change should help more of them make the transition into higher education, said Marketa Walters, head of the state Department of Children and Family Services. Only about 3 percent of foster children go to college, she said.

Jimmy LeBlanc, who leads the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said he was the first Corrections head ever to address the Board of Regents. He said Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed has visited one of his prisons, the first person in her position to do so in his career.

More than half of inmates get to prison without a high school diploma, he said, and 95 percent will return to their communities.

“We need to provide education,” LeBlanc said.

He said a Pell Grant pilot program has helped 143 inmates earn associate degrees and 13 have earned bachelor’s degrees. Last fiscal year, 1,934 industry certifications were earned, he said.

Ray Belton, who leads the Southern University system, said the Regents should create a new classification for historically black colleges and universities like his. The board sets different admission standards based on whether a school is the “flagship” (LSU), a “statewide” university or a “regional” school.

Southern currently is in the “regional” category. An ideal classification would acknowledge that Southern has more reach than a strictly regional university, yet still allowed for flexible admission standards, Belton said.

Barry Erwin, president and CEO of the Council for a Better Louisiana, said colleges and universities have been able to mitigate the impact of state budget cuts by raising tuition and fees. Unfortunately, that has made college less affordable, he said.

As the state’s fiscal situation improves, Erwin said he hopes lawmakers invest in more need-based aid.

Louisiana currently awards about 40,000 degrees and credentials per year, Regents says. The new master plan calls ramping up to 85,000 over the next 11 years.

The Regents say Louisiana has been selected to participate in "attainment academies" funded by the ECMC Foundation, which is meant to help craft an action plan to reach the attainment goals.

Staff Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.