Delta Community College 7500 Millhaven Road Monroe, LA 71203
Chairman David Vitter
Good morning, and thank you for joining me today for the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee’s field hearing in Monroe, Louisiana. Today we will explore new practices in high school and higher education that would help to fulfill Louisiana’s growing workforce demands.
I would also like to thank Congressman Ralph Abraham for joining us today.
As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I am working to give small businesses a greater presence in Congress. One of my most important priorities is creating policies that will strengthen our energy industry, get rid of government rules that are blocking growth, and reduce the tax burden on small businesses.
Louisiana’s economic development is on the rise. However, obtaining a skilled and ready workforce is a challenge for both small and large businesses.
It’s estimated that Louisiana will receive roughly $80 billion in new and expanding development over the next few years. This growth will certainly impact residents’ quality of life as there will be more opportunities to get good-paying jobs and to further stimulate the economy. At its current rate, Louisiana can’t meet the workforce demands of these expansions, which is a problem because it could put our state at risk of losing similar projects in the future.
Right now, Louisiana’s workforce consists of about 2.3 million working adults. Over one million of these individuals do not have a college degree or post-secondary credential, and an additional 600,000 have not obtained a high school diploma. As today’s industries rely more heavily on technology, it is imperative that workers have the training and professional development necessary to meet industry needs.
Over the past few years, Louisiana has taken several steps for workforce development on the secondary and post-secondary level. High school students now have greater access to career courses through dual enrollment programs, partnerships with outside industries and local institutes of higher education, and state programs like Supplemental Course Academy and JumpStart. Also last year, the state legislature established the WISE Act, a $40 million workforce incentive initiative that has created partnerships between industries and institutes of higher education as they work to produce graduates with high-demand degrees and certificates.
Although positive steps have been taken, I think a lot more can be done to help schools and businesses involve non-traditional students in the classroom. In order to continue on an economic trajectory of growth, all Louisianians need to increase their level of education and training and move into higher paying, in-demand fields.
Higher education in the United States hurts innovation by limiting schools’ ability to adequately respond to the needs of employers. It also limits the ability of students to access federal financial aid when trying to seek a degree or credential through a non-traditional method. Unfortunately, Congress has focused on the expenses of traditional, four-year education and how we can best reduce the student loan burden on graduates instead of exploring opportunities to create new pathways to benefit the non-traditional student. I’m working with my colleagues to push forward novel education ideas, such as accrediting specific courses that meet the precise needs of businesses and also allowing students to access financial aid for state-accredited programs. Policies that incorporate these ideas could help to reduce the overall costs of higher education and enable some of the 1.63 million working adults in Louisiana without a post-secondary degree to increase their fortunes.
I look forward to hearing from each our witnesses today. We need learn from the new, innovative methods they’re currently using to build Louisiana’s workforce and to create pathways where government can truly make it easier for states, schools, and businesses to serve the needs of students.