Soon, Louisiana high school students will be able to earn an associate’s degree or gain meaningful work experience for career readiness through a new high-demand apprenticeship program from the Louisiana Department of Education, as announced in a recent Louisiana Believes press release.
The program, Fast Forward, was developed to actively blur the lines dividing high school, higher education, and the workforce, thus completely redefining the high school experience in an accommodating and versatile way. Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley said of the program, “this bold initiative has the potential to impact the educational landscape in our state for years to come. We must be more deliberate about personalizing high school for our students and preparing them for their next step beyond high school graduation.”
Students entering the program would begin high school in a typical manner by completing grades 9 and 10 on their high school campus while earning their required diploma coursework in the core academic areas like English Language Arts, Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Social Studies, etc. Then, once students pass their sophomore year and are at high school’s halfway point, they will be given the option to spend grades 11 and 12 on a postsecondary campus, a high school post secondary satellite campus, or while fully immersed in a state-recognized pre-apprentice or apprentice program.
Aside from the traditional options offered to students in high school, the Fast Forward initiative would offer up to three pathways to students. The Jump Start 2.0 Associate’s Degree Pathway allows students planning to enter the workforce directly after high school to graduate with an associate’s degree. The TOPS University Associate’s Degree Pathway would allow for college-bound students to earn two years of collegiate credit while in high school. The High-Demand Apprenticeship Pathway would allow students to enter the workforce directly following high school graduation with certification in a high-demand field.
This program will be impactful as recent graduation cohort data showed that only 159 out of 42,650 2019 graduates warned both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, marking this pathway an area in need of improvement.
All three options are clearly advantageous for any high schooler wishing to get the most out of their high school experience, and the pathways already build upon programs and similar diploma tracks that are currently offered in Louisiana schools. Each of the state’s eight regions will have planning grants with funds up to $50,000 awarded to a lead regional secondary school system and its higher education partner in that district. Additionally, the Louisiana Department of Education and the Board of Regents will split the cost of the grants.
Details of the promising Fast Forward initiative for college and career readiness were first shared during the December 2020 joint meeting of theLouisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and Regents, with the initiative receiving support from both boards, and that support comes as little surprise. This is due to the fact that much national attention has been garnered for the effort put forward by the Board of Regents, BESE, the Dual Enrollment Task Force, andLouisiana legislature to enhance pathway opportunities to improve career and college readiness in the state.
The State Commissioner of Higher Education, Dr. Kim Hunter Reed said of the program, “this pilot puts into action the joint goal adopted by BESE and Regents in 2019—for all freshmen, beginning with the entering class of 2025, to graduate with some college credit or a market-relevant credential. We must attract more students to our campuses if we want our state’s attainment level to improve and one of the easiest ways to do that is to embed college experiences into high school.”
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