Economic competitiveness and quality of life in the 21st century are more dependent than ever on educational attainment.
Increasingly, opportunity follows educational attainment making talent development a top interest of individuals and the collective public. Nowhere is this evolution more visible than in the changing makeup of our workforce over the past 25 years.
Between 1991 and 2015, the share of good jobs going to workers without a bachelor’s degree fell from 60 percent to 45 percent. The bachelor’s degree has become one of the most vital tools in social mobility and career success.
Over the past decade, however, Louisiana’s public higher education enterprise has suffered the largest disinvestment of public dollars in the nation, while the cost burden on Louisiana students has increased dramatically. As a result, Louisiana’s public colleges and universities operate at the lowest unit cost in the country. The challenge: those “units” are students, and the “cost” is our investment in their future. The resources available per student at colleges and universities in our neighboring states, or as some would say our competitors, far surpass those in Louisiana. We have unilaterally disarmed, threatening our competitiveness in an age where others are aggressively seeking the advantage.
While the resource challenge is real and immense, it pales in comparison to the opportunities awaiting us if we reinvest in our people. The foundation for workforce development, economic development, and community development is human development. With only 24 percent of the prime working-age population in Louisiana having a bachelor’s degree or higher, the Universities of Louisiana are pursuing an aggressive attainment agenda that aligns with modern economic demands, cultural fluency ideals, and community needs. Louisiana is home to 1.5 million working-age adults with high school diplomas but not college degrees; a chronic challenge to be sure, but also an extraordinary opportunity for generational change.
The picture is clear: To compete in a global economy, to improve the quality of life in our communities, and to realize the full potential of our state, Louisiana must elevate the educational attainment of its citizens. Reinvestment is essential. The returns on that reinvestment, channeled through an enterprise more focused on a strategic mission than ever before, will be immeasurable.
Our universities contribute more than $4 billion to Louisiana’s economy. We must do more. Throughout the next eight years we are committed to producing the most educated and prepared generation in our state’s history, expanding research efforts and public/private partnerships that drive our economy, and investing in the faculty that drive our work. For your future. For our future.
Dr. Jim Henderson is President and CEO of the University of Louisiana System