LAFAYETTE, La. - One Acadiana (1A) hosted partners from across the region and state at the UL Lafayette Student Union on Friday for a summit to kick off year two of the 55 by 25 educational attainment initiative.
More than 150 stakeholders attended the summit, including K-12 school district superintendents, higher education leaders, business leaders, nonprofit leaders, and other public officials.
The 55 by 25 initiative's goal is to increase the proportion of working-age adults in Acadiana with postsecondary degrees, certificates, or other high-value credentials to 55% by 2025. As of the most recent Census data, Acadiana's current rate is 38.5%, reflecting a 0.5 percentage point increase over the prior Census year.
The summit was moderated by Dr. Natalie Harder, Chancellor of SLCC, and Jim Bernard, Executive Director of Manufacturing for Stuller, Inc. The two serve as 1A's Co-Chairs for Workforce & Education. Other speakers included Dr. Kim Hunter Reed, Louisiana's Commissioner of Higher Education; Mark Willis of LHC Group; Chris Krampe of MacLaff, Inc.; and Dakota Pawlicki of Lumina Foundation.
As part of their recap of 2019 activities, Harder and Bernard unveiled a new "55 by 25 Accelerator Award" to recognize individuals or initiatives that have helped accelerate progress toward the 55 by 25 goal. They presented one of the two awards to the leaders of the Love Our Schools campaign, which raised more than $1.3 million and engaged more than 3,000 volunteers to support public schools in Lafayette. Love Our Schools was founded by Love Acadiana and the William C. Schumacher Family Foundation, with support from many other donors and partners.
They presented the other award to Superintendent Patrick Jenkins of St. Landry Parish Schools for his leadership on improving the transition from high school to college and career. This fall, Sup. Jenkins helped launch the St. Landry Parish Collegiate Technical Academy, with more than 200 students already enrolled. This innovative partnership with SLCC offers dually-enrolled students the opportunity to earn college technical diplomas in a variety of programs while on a high school campus.
Looking ahead to year two, a primary focus of the 55 by 25 initiative will be supporting adult learners, particularly the nearly one in five adults who have earned some college credit but no degree.
Related strategies include working with state officials on a National Governors Association grant to connect adult students with state services, coordinating regional involvement in the Degrees When Due initiative to improve degree completion, and promoting the University of Louisiana System's "Compete LA" initiative to reengage adults with some college but no degree.
1A also launched a new employer engagement campaign called Bridging the Talent Gap, which will use data from employer and employee surveys to assess the regional talent landscape and opportunities for adults to further their education. The employer survey is open from now until March 10 at OneAcadiana.org/Survey.
"We are excited by the progress made by the 55 by 25 initiative in its first year," said Troy Wayman, 1A President & CEO. "It's clear that the goals of the initiative are resonating, and we look forward to keeping the momentum going in 2020. Not only will increasing educational attainment improve our business environment, it will also improve the earnings potential and quality of life of individuals throughout the Acadiana region."
"The future prosperity of Acadiana depends on a fundamental commitment to education as a top regional priority, and I am inspired by the partners throughout the region who are doubling down on this commitment. Congrats especially to our 55 by 25 Accelerator Award recipients - Superintendent Patrick Jenkins of St. Landry Parish Schools, and the leaders of Lafayette Parish's Love Our Schools campaign - who are excellent examples of the leadership needed to achieve our 55 by 25 goal," said Dr. Harder.
"I congratulate the Acadiana region for being the first in the state to set an attainment goal and to harness the power of all stakeholders to accomplish it. The focus on reaching adult learners is critical for this region and the state's overall success. We must support the education and training of our adults - many of whom are working parents trying to fit life-changing education and training into their already busy lives. Removing barriers and increasing opportunities for adults, minority populations, and low-income populations is critical for Louisiana to prosper. We're excited to support this effort and hope other parts of the state will replicate this approach," said Dr. Reed.
More information about the 55 by 25 initiative is available at 55by25Acadiana.org.