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State universities must find more private partnerships

University of Louisiana at Monroe

University of Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley says one of the major focuses for higher education will be establishing more private partnerships with business and industry while higher education systems work to provide skilled graduates to meet their workforce needs.

Woodley, who became the eighth president of the University of Louisiana System in January 2013, spoke before The News-Star Editorial Board on Thursday. She was in Monroe to take part in the Northern and Central Louisiana Interfaith’s higher education and workforce summit at ULM.

She said the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy Plan, called the WISE program, has the chance to make Louisiana a more competitive state for economic development as long as private partnerships can be formed at each university, and higher education systems produce quality graduates for business and industry.

Gov. Bobby Jindal announced last month higher education will receive a $142 million increase. Part of that funding will provide $40 million to colleges and universities to better provide the workforce to help boost the state’s economy.

“We’re excited about the ability of these targeted funds to fill the (workforce) gaps. This is a good problem to have when you have more business and industry jobs than you have graduates in the pipeline,” Woodley said. “We take this responsibility seriously, and we have initiatives in place that will allow us to be proactive in the way we develop our graduates for this pipeline.”

Universities and colleges can tap into this funding, but access is based on performance indicators.

Approximately 80 percent of the $40 million will be distributed to higher education systems based on degree production for high-demand job fields. The remaining 20 percent is distributed to colleges and universities based on research and innovation of programs.

“In order to move Louisiana to national competitiveness we need to be able to make sure we generate the graduates we need for our workforce, connect our students much earlier in the process to our career pathways and continue with this high level of research and innovation that meets the competitiveness,” Woodley said.

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