Jan 06, 2021

Fast Forward initiative aims to increase number of students graduating high school with an associate’s degree or high-demand, state-recognized apprenticeship

BATON ROUGE, La. -- The Louisiana Department of Education has launched an initiative designed to increase the number of high school graduates who earn an associate’s degree or participate in a high-demand apprenticeship program during high school. Today, the Department released a request for applications to support the development of these new student pathways as part of its Fast Forward initiative.

“This bold initiative has the potential to impact the educational landscape in our state for years to come,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley. “We must be more deliberate about personalizing high school for our students and preparing them for their next step beyond high school graduation.” 

Fast Forward was developed to blur the lines between high school, higher education and the workforce as part of a redesigned high school experience. The initiative creates opportunities for students to earn an associate’s degree or gain meaningful work experience through a high-demand apprenticeship program. Students on this pathway would spend grades 9 and 10 on their high school campus earning required diploma coursework in core academic areas. Students would then have the opportunity to spend grades 11 and 12 on a postsecondary campus, a high school postsecondary satellite campus or fully immersed in a state-recognized pre-apprentice or apprentice program.

The initiative offers up to three pathways to students aside from traditional high school options. The Jump Start 2.0 Associate’s Degree Pathway allows students who plan to enter the workforce after high school to graduate with an associate’s degree. The TOPS University Associate’s Degree Pathway allows college-going students to earn two years of college credit while in high school. The High-Demand Apprenticeship Pathway allows students to enter the workforce after high school with certification in a high-demand field. 

Planning grants of up to $50,000 will be awarded to a lead regional secondary school system and its higher education partner in each of the eight regions of the state. LDOE and the Board of Regents will split the cost of the grants. 

“This pilot puts into action the joint goal adopted by BESE and Regents in 2019—for all freshmen, beginning with the entering class of 2025, to graduate with some college credit or a market-relevant credential,” said Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed. “We must attract more students to our campuses if we want our state’s attainment level to improve and one of the easiest ways to do that is to embed college experiences into high school.”

Details of the initiative were first shared during December’s joint meeting of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and Regents. The initiative received support from both boards. Enhancing pathway opportunities to improve career and college readiness is a shared goal of the Board of Regents, BESE, the Dual Enrollment Task Force and the Louisiana legislature and has garnered national attention.

Associate’s degree opportunities for high school students have been underutilized in Louisiana. While the number of school systems offering an associate’s degree program in high school has increased, the number of students taking advantage of this opportunity remains small. Graduation cohort data from 2019 shows that only 159 out of 42,650 graduates earned both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree upon graduation from high school.

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