La. officials: How to spend $40M college fund?
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana college, economic development and labor officials who are trying to decide how to split a new $40 million higher education incentive fund hit a stumbling block Wednesday: which jobs forecast to use.
The issue isn't a minor one.
Deciding which degree areas are in most demand and which skills are most valuable to the state largely will determine how the money is spent — and which schools get the dollars — from the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy Fund, or WISE Fund.
Gov. Bobby Jindal and lawmakers set aside the money for college research and training programs that will fill high-demand jobs in the state, tied to projected workforce demand.
A council set up to make recommendations for spending the money didn't settle on which forecast to use Wednesday, instead saying that will be decided later this month.
But its members spent time haggling over the basic underpinning of how to divvy up dollars, debating whether the money should be steered more heavily to immediately available jobs or positions expected to be available in a long-term forecast that runs through 2022.
Some college system leaders also raised concerns about the way the forecast, overseen by the state's labor department, is developed now that it will dictate how much money their campuses will receive from the incentive fund.
"It takes a different level of scrutiny than if you're just using it for planning," said University of Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley.
Charles Moniotte, chairman of the Workforce Investment Council, is a member of both the forecasting group and the council that is looking at how to divide the higher education money. He said he'd never heard concerns before about the forecasting methods, and he bristled at the idea of college leaders doing some sort of independent forecasting.
The state's labor secretary, Curt Eysink, agreed. "We need a single forecast for the state," said Eysink, who attended the meeting by conference call.
As an example of her concerns, Woodley said the job-needs analysis outlined by the economic development department doesn't seem to show a large demand for nurses. But she said college campuses "can't produce nurses fast enough" to fill available jobs.
Southern University System President Ron Mason said however the money is divided, job demand will exceed the dollars that can be steered to the career paths. There's "not going to be enough to fill the gap," he said.
The Board of Regents will have final say over which campuses get the money, based on recommendations from the WISE Council. All campuses aren't guaranteed to receive fund dollars. Schools have to work with private businesses to get a match of at least 20 percent, either through cash or donations.