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By: Chris Meyer

Opportunity Lost?

In the Baton Rouge region alone, there are over $10 billion worth of projects on the books for the coming decade; in South Louisiana, the estimate is nearly eight times greater. With recent announcements from IBM and the Water Campus, Baton Rouge continues to expand its economic base beyond a largely chemical and manufacturing sector to a knowledge-based one. In short, Baton Rouge, like much of Louisiana, has the game-changing opportunity to offer jobs that are in demand across the globe.

These jobs of tomorrow are not those of today or decades ago. Today, half of the jobs in Louisiana require some form of training after high school. Tomorrow, two-thirds of all jobs in the state will require post-secondary two-or four-year degrees.

Among Louisiana adults, fewer than one in three have a post-secondary degree, ranking our state as having the lowest post-secondary attainment rate in the nation along with West Virginia. Unfortunately, only one in four Louisiana students demonstrates skills that indicate preparedness for career training or college. This clearly will not meet the demand of industries and businesses that are expanding here.

For those who do graduate high school and enroll in a post-secondary program, many are not ready for the rigor of these courses. National data show that about 60 percent of high school graduates are underprepared for post-high school experiences in one or more subject areas.

Two facts are clear from the data stated above. One, it will be incredibly challenging for students to sustain themselves or a family without achieving a post-high school degree. And two, Louisiana students have much ground to make up if they are going to seize the job opportunities in front of our state.

Based on ACT results, Baton Rouge’s high schools have had mixed results in preparing students for what’s next.

2013 ACT Composite Score Averages (out of a possible 36)

National 20.9
Louisiana 19.5
All EBRPSS High Schools 18.3
Baton Rouge Magnet High 25.3
All Selective EBRPSS High Schools 20.6
High Schools located in North Baton Rouge (i.e., the Achievement Zone) 16.3

Like most of Louisiana, far too few high schools in Baton Rouge are preparing our students for tomorrow’s opportunities. There is a sharp and pronounced difference of outcomes when comparing Baton Rouge’s selective and non-selective schools, most of which reside in North Baton Rouge.

We can begin to seize tomorrow’s opportunities today in two ways. First, we must move past the debate about whether students should be prepared for college or some form of career education. Second, we need to launch more high schools with proven track records of graduating students who are post-secondary ready.

Otherwise, tomorrow’s jobs will go to imported talent, or worse, disappear all together because Louisiana cannot produce enough qualified workers to meet demand.  Let’s do what it takes to ensure that this opportunity is not lost to our kids.


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