Louisiana School Districts Awarded Fast Forward Initiative Grants

According to a Louisiana DOE press release, eight Louisiana school districts  have received $50,000 in grant money to increase the number of high school graduates earning associate’s degrees or taking part in apprenticeship programs before graduation.

As discussed in an earlier January 2021 blog post, the Fast Forward Initiative was first announced during a joint meeting between the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and the Board of Regents last December. Since then the initiative has gone on to receive resounding support from both boards, the Dual Enrollment Task Force, and the Louisiana Legislature.

The Louisiana Department of Education released applications for the Fast Forward Initiative this past January for planning grants to be awarded to a region’s lead secondary school system and its higher education partner from each of Louisiana’s eight BESE districts. The total grant cost came to a total of $400,000, with The Department of Education and Board of Regents splitting the cost.

As announced in March 2021, the recipients of the Fast Forward Regional Planning Grants are:

After receiving the $50,000 grant, each school district will collaborate with postsecondary institutions, business partners, and economic development organizations to increase the number of Louisiana graduates earning a Jump Start TOPS Tech Career Diploma or a TOPS University Diploma while simultaneously participating in a high-demand apprenticeship opportunity or earning an associate’s degree, a much-valued resource.

According to 2019 graduation cohort data, only 0.0037% of Louisiana High School graduates earned both an associate’s degree and high school diploma upon graduation, despite a spike in Louisiana School Systems offering associate’s degree programs at the high school level. This is unfortunate because the program comes at no cost to those participating, thus resulting in the Louisiana associate’s degree becoming a vastly underutilized resource.

The average associate’s degree program is earned over two years from a post-secondary institution with students earning 60 semester-credits per program. Though, many institutions offer these degrees on an accelerated program,benefiting students wanting to pursue their education while also working a job or raising a family.

In addition to this flexibility, those earning an associate’s degree in Louisiana also qualify to continue education as a part of a 2+2 program (or Louisiana Transfer Degree), in which students then transfer to another college or university for two additional years, thus earning a bachelor’s degree.

According to the National Center for Higher Education Management (NCHEMS), the average annual pay for Louisiana Jobs requiring an Associate’s Degree is $39,157 a year, ranking 37th in the nation. Additionally, the Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce foresees at least 55% of open jobs in Louisiana requiring some type of career credential or college degree soon.

Because of this increased demand for a qualified, degree-holding Louisiana workforce, it’s imperative that Louisiana graduates take advantage of the Fast Forward initiative. If they complete the program, they will have a beneficial advantage over other future applicants in the increasingly more competitive Louisiana job market.

Dr. Cade Brumley, Louisiana’s Superintendent of Education, commented on the value of the program saying, “ we must be intentional in connecting students to their lives beyond high school graduation. By further personalizing the high school experience, we will better prepare students and be responsive to the needs of our communities and state.”I’m both excited and thankful for the relationships being developed between PK-12, higher education and the workforce. This initial opportunity holds promise to improve Louisiana as a whole in the long term.”

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