Lawmakers question higher education funding

Louisiana lawmakers and board members of the various Louisiana university systems proposed the idea to make students coming out of college in Louisiana a competitor in today’s national economy, creating an innovative workforce to build a stronger economy.
Also known as the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy fund or HB1033, WISE would give Louisiana colleges and universities a pool of $40 million to fund degree programs with high job demand in the state.
However, the legislation is drawing some concern from lawmakers, one of whom has doubts on whether or not Louisiana will see a positive return in tax revenue.
Committee Chairman Jim Fannin R-Jonesboro says Louisiana had previously tried to boost economic development for the WISE fund by pouring funds into one program, but the tax revenue never lives up to its projected potential. For the WISE fund, Fannin hopes to see a step-by-step system of actually placing college graduates in job positions, according to the Times Picayune.
“When can we expect to see some results? [The state’s]
bottom line hasn’t increased much at all,” Fannin told the Times Picayune. “Give me a real timeline as to what this means about putting people to work.”
Director of Executive
Director of Public and Governmental Affairs Erin Cowser says this is the start of something good and that graduates will have more opportunities to work in Louisiana to meet the current workforce needs.
“In crafting this legislation, the hope is that by educating
students for careers that will be, and in many cases already are, in high demand in local cities, the region and throughout the state, that students will be able to find quality positions and stay in the Louisiana workforce,” Cowser said.
According to the legislation, a requirement calls for universities and colleges wishing to benefit from the funds to produce “a match of no less than 20 percent of the amount to be distributed” from a private sponsor or investor.  The funds will be distributed through the Louisiana Board of Regents in “accordance with the state-wide workforce.”
The Times Picayune also reported that Louisiana Board of Regents Chairman Clinton Rasberry says the state should expect to see profits in the next two years. Then, tax revenue should begin to increase.
According to Cowser, the university continues its dedication to students by providing degree programs relevant to today’s economy.
“Southeastern has always strived to create degrees programs that are aligned with the demands of the regional workforce,” said Cowser.  “Supply chain management in the College of Business and the ACE program in computer science are just two examples.”
80 percent of the funds would be delegated to schools with research and productivity being done in high demand degree programs, including computer science, education, engineering technology, industrial production, data analysis, finance and accounting and healthcare.
Governor Bobby Jindal has said he supports the WISE fund and sees it as a way to continue what is already happening in the state, which is a workforce surge. According to Jindal, the WISE fund should create security in the state job market
“The reforms are working, but it’s time to redouble our efforts,” said Jindal in a press release back in January. “We are in the midst of an economic renaissance in Louisiana. Since 2008, we have announced economic development wins that are resulting in more than 80,000 new jobs and more than $50 billion in private capital investment. Because of these job wins, more people are employed than ever before in Louisiana. Tens of thousands of jobs are now in the pipeline that must be filled, and our next challenge is to ensure we have the skilled workforce to fill these jobs of the future.”
The WISE fund also has wide support from University of Louisiana System, which the university is part of, President Sandra Woodley.
Most recently, Wooley said that WISE would pour funds into state higher education, rather than cutting budgets like recent years.
“In the University of Louisiana System, there is a deep sense of responsibility and urgency to increase the pace at our nine universities to meet growing workforce demands and to achieve national competitiveness,” said Woodley in a press release.

”We are greatly appreciative of Governor Jindal’s support of the WISE plan and are committed to leveraging these new dollars, engaging in unprecedented collaboration across higher education systems and enhancing our partnerships with business and industry to drive economic development.”