New initiative could help adults access higher education

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - One might think tuition rates and fees would rise as lawmakers struggle to fund higher education, but the Louisiana Community and Technical College System Board of Supervisors recently voted "no" to hikes.

"We believe we're at a place where any increases in tuition and fees are going to limit access to people and that's simply not good for Louisiana's people, it's not good for the economy," said Louisiana's Community and Technical Colleges President Monty Sullivan.

Sullivan says charging more for higher education would hurt enrollment, especially for non-traditional students.

"As the price point in the cost of attending institutions of higher education has gone up, it's more and more difficult for students to work and pay their own way to college," Sullivan explained.

He says, in this economic climate, it's the last thing Louisiana needs.

"The way we solve Louisiana's tax challenge is by educating more people, putting them to work in allowing them to participate in the economy," said Sullivan.

He adds that of the state's three million working adults, close to half have a high school diploma or less, which limits their opportunities for high-paying jobs.

Yet, even with steady tuition rates, he says says many are still struggling.

"For many of the students going to institutions like Delgado, just $100 a month can make the difference between them staying in and getting a degree or getting a credential that can get them into a middle-class job," explained President CEO Greater New Orleans Inc., Michael Hecht.

It's why leaders are looking towards a new program to help adults get a higher education. The TOPS Tech for Adults initiative aims to offer scholarships for programs that put students on track for high-paying jobs, like the technology program at Nunez or Delgado's healthcare program.

"An opportunity for us to stand back from what has been one of the best scholarship programs in the nation and think about how we tweak it in order to be able to adjust to the needs of the people of Louisiana," said Sullivan.

Economic development leaders say the proposed program is a win-win for both students and businesses.

"If we do well with our LCTCS schools like Delgado, like Fletcher, like Nunez, there's going to be an opportunity for or Louisianians and New Orleanians to get great middle-class jobs and for companies that are here to grow in scale," Hecht said.

The state isn't funding the proposal. Instead, colleges are raising private dollars from the business community and non-profits. It will take $1.4 million to fund the program.

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