Louisiana State Exhibit Museum 3015 Greenwood Road Shreveport, Louisiana 71109
Chairman Vitter Summary Statement
Good afternoon, and thank you for joining me today for the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee’s field hearing in Shreveport, Louisiana, to discuss the need for innovative practices in high school and higher education to fulfill Louisiana’s workforce demands.
I would also like to thank Congressman John Fleming for joining us today to discuss this important issue.
In my new role as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I am striving to lend small businesses a greater voice in Congress, and to also shape policies that will grow our energy industry, eliminate government impediments to growth, and reduce the tax burden on small businesses.
Today, I would like to highlight the substantial economic development taking place in Louisiana and to highlight one of the biggest struggles for both small and large businesses: obtaining a skilled and ready workforce.
Officials estimate that Louisiana will receive roughly $80 billion in new and expanding development over the next several years. Such growth will positively impact the quality of life throughout the state as residents have greater opportunities to obtain well-paying jobs and, in turn, further stimulate the economy. However, in its current state, Louisiana will be unable to meet the workforce demands of these expansions, which could put the state at risk of losing similar developments in the future.
At this time, Louisiana’s workforce consists of about 2.3 million working adults. Over a million of these individuals have not obtained 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.
Louisiana has taken several steps to alter the landscape of workforce development over the last few years, both 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. Last year, the state legislature’s establishment of the WISE Act, a $40 million workforce incentive initiative, also spurred partnerships between industries and institutes of higher education as they strive to produce graduates with high-demand degrees and certificates.
Despite these positive steps, I believe more can be done to assist schools and businesses engage non-traditional students, so they can increase their level of education and training and move into higher paying, in-demand fields.
The current system of higher education in the United States stifles innovation by limiting schools’ ability to quickly and aptly respond to the needs of employers and further limits the ability of students to access federal financial aid when trying to seek a degree or credential through a non-traditional method. Much of the debate in Congress surrounding higher education focuses solely on the cost of a traditional, four-year education and how we can best reduce the student loan burden on graduates. Instead, we should be innovative in our approach, creating new pathways to benefit the non-traditional student. Ideas like allowing states to accredit specific courses created by businesses that precisely reflect their needs and allowing students to access financial aid for state-accredited programs could 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 change their circumstances.
I look forward to hearing from each our witnesses today as we learn from the innovative methods they’re currently using to build Louisiana’s workforce and to explore avenues where government can truly make it easier for states, schools, and businesses to serve the needs of students.