BATON ROUGE, La. — The Louisiana Department of Education previewed a new initiative designed to increase the number of high school graduates who earn an associate’s degree or participate in a high-demand apprenticeship program during high school. Details were shared during today’s joint meeting of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and the Board of Regents. The initiative received support from both boards.
The Fast Forward initiative is designed to blur the lines between high school, higher education and the workforce by creating opportunities for students to earn an associate’s degree or gain meaningful work experience through a high-demand apprenticeship program as part of a redesigned high school experience. Students on this pathway would spend grades 9 and 10 on their high school campus, earning required diploma coursework in core academic areas. Students would then have the opportunity to spend grades 11 and 12 on a postsecondary campus, on a high school postsecondary satellite campus, or fully immersed in a state-recognized pre- apprentice or apprentice program.
“Louisiana is moving towards a more personalized and flexible high school experience for every child,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley. “We must be more intentional in our planning for a high school experience that prepares students for success after graduation. This initiative will help improve the career and college readiness of our graduates and satisfy needs in our workforce.”
Associate’s degree opportunities for high school students have been underutilized in Louisiana. While the number of school systems offering an associate’s degree program in high school has increased, the number of students taking advantage of this opportunity remains small. Graduation cohort data from 2019 show that only 159 out of 42,650 graduates earned both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree upon graduation from high school.
“The best way to strengthen transitions to college and meaningful credentials is to embed them directly into a redesigned high school experience. That’s the kind of fast start we need in both rural and urban Louisiana communities. We’re excited to partner with Dr. Brumley, BESE and local school districts to make this vision a reality,” said Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Kim Hunter Reed. “This pilot puts into action the joint goal adopted by BESE and Regents last year – for all high school freshmen, beginning with the entering class of 2025, to graduate with some college credit or market-relevant credential.”
The joint goal was adopted to support the state’s Higher Education Master Plan, designed to ensure that by the year 2030 60 percent of Louisiana’s working-age population holds a credential of value. This would require the state to more than double the annual number of postsecondary credentials earned and erase equity gaps.
“Making sure students have a pathway to earn college credit during high school saves them time and money,” said Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards. “This program will help make sure Louisiana’s students are ready to enter the workforce and contribute to the state’s economy. It is yet another positive step toward greater prosperity for Louisiana’s students and citizenry.”
LDOE plans to release a request for applications on January 6 to support the development of these new student pathways. Planning grants of up to $50,000 will be awarded to a lead regional secondary school system and its higher education partner in each of the eight regions of the state. LDOE and Regents will split the cost of the grants. Enhancing pathway opportunities to improve career and college readiness is a shared goal of the Board of Regents, BESE, the Dual Enrollment Task Force, and the Louisiana legislature, and has garnered national attention.
“With this new initiative to increase the number of high school students earning associate’s degrees, Louisiana continues to lead in building strong bridges between its K-12 and higher education systems and removing barriers to successful transitions,” said Matt Gandal, President & CEO of Education Strategy Group. “I’ve been honored to work with BOR and BESE over the years as they have collaboratively enacted first-in-the-nation policies that promote equitable student outcomes, including a goal for all high school students to earn college credit and a high school accountability system that rewards schools for graduating students who earn associate’s degrees. This is the type of innovative state leadership that will equip the next generation of students for educational and economic success. ”
The U.S. Department of Education published a report that documented the positive effects dual enrollment programs have on a student’s college access, enrollment, readiness and degree attainment. A report from the James Irvine Foundation found that dual enrollment expanded opportunities for underachieving and underrepresented students. Career pathway students participating in dual enrollment were more likely to graduate from high school, transition to a four-year college and continue their postsecondary education.