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WISE Council holds its first official meeting as higher ed anticipates funds

Members of the WISE Council meet in Baton Rouge for first official meeting. Members of the WISE Council meet in Baton Rouge for first official meeting.

State funded colleges and universities are anxious to compete for millions of dollars recently set aside for programs that will better meet job demand in Louisiana now and in the future.

On Tuesday afternoon, the new state body that will oversee the 'WISE Fund' held its first official meeting to begin work on the process for allocating the funds.

On college campuses across Louisiana, many students have concerns about whether the diploma they will receive will result in a good paying job. Still, UNO junior Nadya Raskina believes her chances are better than most. She is majoring in mechanical engineering.

"I think that my job prospects are pretty good. UNO has a really great mechanical engineering program with a lot of practical skills," Raskina stated.

And nearly 90 miles away in Baton Rouge, the WISE Council met Tuesday afternoon. As a newly created body, it was the first official meeting.

WISE stands for Workforce and Innovation for a stronger economy fund. The council members will oversee the $40 million fund created during the just ended state legislative session.

Through the fund, colleges and universities will compete for a share of the $40 million dollar fund designed to aid or increase higher education programs that will meet workforce and innovation demands in the state like computer science and engineering.

"That data is being gathered at this point, it'll be very specific where the needs are and then it'll be very specific on which of the systems can supply those needs," said Clinton Rasberry, Jr., of the Board of Regents who is now chair of the WISE Council.

"All of institutions are already responsive to business and industry. What we need is more of that," said Sandra Woodley, who represents the UL System on the WISE Council.

Raskina said the WISE Fund is clearly needed.

"I think that it's a really good idea. Like with the technological environment that we're in right now, we're going to need to be always innovating programs to keep up with the current job market," she said.

Members of the WISE Council also learned that about $12 million of the dollars in the fund are actually federal hurricane recovery dollars that can only be spent in certain parishes and will require federal approval for spending. Still, members of the council are confident all will work out.

"There are a lot of details to work out, but it's minor in the scheme of what we think we can do with this money," said Woodley.

Some universities have already tailored some of their curricula to match areas of high workforce demand.

"We've got student demand up 30 plus percent in these fields of study, but we don't have the faculty to put in the classroom. This allows us to start planning to put more faculty into those areas," said King Alexander, Chancellor of LSU and the LSU System representative on the WISE Council.

Colleges and universities around the state who want to tap into the WISE Fund dollars will have to guarantee that they can get a match of 20 percent from a private entity or businesses. The match can be in cash, donations of technology and personnel.

"I think it gives us the ability to scale up our interactions with private industry and business and to give them a plan that's exciting to them, that they actually want to invest in," said Woodley.

Woodley said once all of the details are worked out, schools can start receiving WIDE Fund dollars by January.

Governor Bobby Jindal made the creation of the WISE Fund one of his top priorities during the legislative session.

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