Program aims to make Louisiana high schools ‘more relevant’

Local News

Louisiana Department of Education

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana education leaders are working on an ambitious program to remake high schools, to avoid wasting high school students’ senior years and better prepare them for college or careers.

The new program called “Fast Forward” would allow juniors and seniors to spend most of their time earning an associate degree taking classes at a community or technical college or taking part in an apprenticeship.

“We know that the entry point of work now is seldom the high school degree,” said state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley. “The entry point of work also requires a credential, an apprenticeship, an associate degree or a professional degree.”

The plan is advancing, and The Advocate reports education leaders hope students can start pursuing the new options within a few years.

Launch of the program received approval from Louisiana boards governing public K-12 schools and higher education, and the state Department of Education has issued a request for applications to start the effort in eight regions. Grants of up to $50,000 will be awarded to school systems and higher education officials in each area to map plans and prepare pilot projects.

Fast Forward would give students three options to drastically change their third and fourth years of high school.

One would allow students who pursue a career and technical education diploma to earn a technical associate degree on college campuses with courses that also earn them high school credits. Another option would let students who plan to attend a four-year university earn an associate degree that would allow them to start college as juniors. The third path would let students pursue an apprenticeship approved by the Louisiana Workforce Commission that would put them on the path to a job after high school.

Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said the overhaul seeks to reimagine high school.

“We need it because we need to make sure that high schools are more relevant to today’s students,” Reed said. “It can be a real game changer.”

Only a tiny number of high school students earn associate degrees while in high school, 159 out of 42,650 graduates in the latest tally. Louisiana also has long had low numbers of students who take classes for both high school and college credit amid problems on how to finance them and make them accessible in rural areas. Barely one in five high school juniors and seniors were pursuing college classes in the most recent count.

At the same time, only 40% of high school seniors take a full course load.

“The ‘Fast Forward’ program is recognizing what the students and businesses are demanding in today’s world,” said Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc. “Students are demanding an education that will lead to a well-paying job, and businesses are asking for students who have work-ready skills on day one.”

About 160,000 students are enrolled annually in community and technical colleges. Roughly 8,000 are high school students taking dual-enrollment courses.

“A high school diploma simply will not allow you to survive in this country. The new standard in this country is having some level of skills beyond high school,” said Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.

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