NATCHITOCHES –Louisiana’s Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Jim Purcell discussed education’s role economic development and challenges faced by public institutions of higher education with the Natchitoches Kiwanis Club Thursday. Purcell charted Louisiana’s 57 percent slash in funding for higher education, which is at the lowest level of state investment since the 1950s, but also presented data that showed an increase in retention and graduates who earn degrees or certificates, with three-fifths of those staying in the state for at least 18 months. In particular, there is in an increase in college opportunities geared towards adults, he said.
“We need an economy that is more diverse and entrepreneurial,” Purcell said, explaining that success in the new economy will require workers to have some education, an associate degree or higher. His data showed that adding one year of college to the region’s workforce increases the gross domestic product per capita by 17 percent.
Moving forward, Louisiana will need to adjust the state’s funding model for higher education, improve campus efficiency, increase use of technology, listen to the needs of business and industry and increase intercampus collaborations. Purcell cited a new accelerated online degree program soon to be offered jointly through the nine schools in the University of Louisiana System, including Northwestern State University, in which adults who dropped out of college can earn a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership with a concentration in one of nine areas. Northwestern State’s concentration offering will be in public safety administration.
The program is one result in the state’s improvements in tracking college dropouts and creating opportunities for them to complete a degree.
“Communities that will survive in the new economy are work-ready communities,” Purcell said, predicting a focus on municipal/regional economic development opportunities.
Purcell was named Commissioner of Higher Education in 2011. He previously served as the state higher education executive in Arkansas and associate vice chancellor for strategic planning in Oklahoma. Purcell oversees and supervises the operations of the Board of Regents’ staff and represents the state’s postsecondary education community at the state and federal level as well as with the general public.