UL System initiative aims to help La. to compete

Leigh Guidry | Lafayette Daily Advertiser USA TODAY NETWORK

The University of Louisiana System is launching an effort to help

students who never finished college get back to school.

Maybe the freshman’s parent lost a job and he had to return home.

Maybe she had a baby. Maybe college wasn’t right for him at 18, and

now he’s ready but in debt or working full-time or just doesn’t know

how to apply.

No matter the reason, there are 653,000 adults in Louisiana — one in

five — with some college credit but no degree.

That number breaks down by region into:

73,296 in Acadiana 43,110 in the Kisatchie-Delta Region (Central

Louisiana) 41,282 in the North Delta Region (Northeast Louisiana)

88,163 in District Seven (northwest Louisiana) 180,141 in the Greater

New Orleans Region 164,619 in the Capital Region 50,129 in the South

Central Region and 43,241 in the Calcasieu Region.

The nine-university system wants to eliminate barriers like these that

often keep people from re-enrolling.


By creating a one-stop shop that connects potential students to online

and hybrid degree programs at universities they already know — perhaps

where they started years ago — and then connecting applicants to a

coach who cuts through red tape and encourages you throughout your

college career.

This is the gist of Compete Louisiana or CompeteLA.org, where you can

search degree programs and universities — Grambling State, Louisiana

Tech, McNeese State, Nicholls State, Northwestern State, Southeastern

Louisiana University, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University

of Louisiana at Monroe and University of New Orleans.

Barriers come in all sizes. Sometimes it’s institutional debt that

prevents a student from getting a transcript “It just takes one ounce

of frustration that says, ‘I’m not going to do it,’” UL System

President and CEO Jim Henderson said.

CompeteLA coaches help with that. They help students to apply and find

programs that are right for them, helping them decide among online,

hybrid (some online and some in-class) or eight-week courses.

Coaches do the leg work like making phone calls to get transcripts or

find local options for childcare, Henderson said.

Once they’re in classes, coaches encourage students with messages,

line up tutoring and hold them accountable with task lists on a mobile

app. The CompeteLA website is live, and the app is coming in early


The system has two in-house coaches now and plans to hire another.

Research from other states with similar programs, like Florida and

Mississippi, claims a good ratio of one coach to a case load of 400 to

500 students, Henderson said.


Research shows a direct correlation between level of educational

attainment (highest level of degree someone has completed) and wage or

economic status.

And today’s work looks different than yesterday’s, requiring new

skills to learn thanks to rapidly changing technology.

For these reasons, “we need to have a more educated populous. We talk

about ‘the future of work.’ It’s not the future. It’s now,” Henderson


That’s where CompeteLA comes in.

“Completion is a means to an end,” Henderson said, which is to compete

in today’s highly digital workforce.

Another “end” is the transformation that higher educational attainment

can have on the things that consistently place Louisiana close to last

in national rankings. Research has shown education reduces poverty,

improves health outcomes and increases economic growth.

“Think of how it transforms Louisiana,” Henderson said.

His system has set lofty goals, like “producing the most educated

generation in the history of Louisiana,” in its strategic framework

released in 2017. Specifically, a goal is to produce 150,000 new

graduates prepared for life and career success.

Louisiana’s annual crop of less than 40,000 high school graduates —

the traditional incoming freshmen at ULS institutions — won’t fill

that gap alone, which is another imperative to look to other

populations to enroll.

“We will never close this gap with the traditional age population,”

Henderson said. “We’ve got to find a way to reach the adult