Letter: Changes in education tracks to benefit students, Louisiana industry

Today, 28 percent of Louisianians have a two-year or four-year college degree. But more than half of the jobs in our state require an education after high school.

Increasing the number of students graduating from four-year universities is an important part of closing this gap. But our state’s natural resources economy provides thousands of jobs in construction, energy, health care, manufacturing and transportation that require industry credentials and associate degrees rather than bachelor degrees. The recently announced Jump Start program expands these paths to the middle class, providing all students a chance to continue education after high school.

First, Jump Start ceases the practice of labeling students as “college” or “career” as early as eighth grade. Well intended as that policy has been, it has often had the effect of grouping struggling students, offering them less opportunity, and stigmatizing career and technical education.

Jump Start then provides students with coursework and workplace-based experiences leading to industry credentials and college credit valued by employers. Local school systems, industry, and two-year colleges will form public-private regional teams to provide such opportunities.

The state will in turn reward schools for career and technical education outcomes in the same way it has rewarded university preparation outcomes for years. Students achieving a basic Jump Start industry credential, many of which involve “dual enrollment” college credit, will generate reward points for their schools equal to those generated when a student passes a university course or test.

Jump Start also entails an increase in state funding for highly technical high school courses in fields such as welding, electrician work, health care and computer programming that simply cost more than teaching Shakespeare. The proposal also includes funds to be used for community college and private sector career training coursework for high school students.

Finally, Jump Start offers career educators in the classroom summer training to upgrade their credentials, while requiring that in the next five years career educators become professionally credentialed in their job fields. Similarly, Jump Start eliminates the barriers to experienced employees entering the education profession to share their knowledge with students.

I recently reflected on this sobering idea: I myself have passed out too many diplomas to students with no concrete next step in life. They walk off that stage and into a complex world, often ill-equipped for its challenges and not credentialed to demonstrate those skills they already have.

We owe our students much better than that. Education should be a source of opportunity and upward mobility. Whether through a four-year college, a two-year college, or industry education — and often through a combination of all of them — Louisiana’s students deserve a Jump Start.

John White

s tate superintendent of education

Baton Rouge