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The “Re: Connection” Blog Series: Dr. Kim Hunter Reed — Year Two and a Look to the Future

In our new “Re: Connection” blog series, we’re revisiting articles from the past to find out changes in the workplace and what’s new in general. In 2018, we featured Commissioner of Higher Education, Dr. Kim Hunter Reed soon after she was hired. We recently had the good fortune to catch up with her again to share her thoughts on the job and her plans for the future.

When homegrown talent takes over a leadership role in the state and experiences success, it’s always a proud moment for Louisianans. There seems to be an extra spark and an urgency to improve our state when the job is performed by someone who is connected to Louisiana by birth. Larose native, Ed Orgeron, in what he calls his “dream job” as head coach of the LSU Tiger football team, is a shining example. It seems that shortly after hiring Coach O full time, Louisiana made another stellar hire, bringing back Lake Charles native, Dr. Kim Hunter Reed, who was unanimously chosen as the state’s ninth commissioner of higher education by the Louisiana Board of Regents. Formerly, Reed worked as executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education and served in the Obama administration as deputy undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Education. She brings high energy and a passion for education and workforce development to her role in leading the state’s higher education system. Just as the football Tigers have laid the groundwork for future success, Reed and her team are taking a strategic approach to upgrading the state’s education system and bringing it into a new era.

During her first few months on the job, Reed spent time visiting campuses, gathering research and undertaking the foundational work to develop an aggressive plan to ensure that there is more opportunity for Louisiana citizens and that more people have education and training in this knowledge economy. From this work, a new vision and Master Plan, Louisiana Prospers: Driving Our Talent Imperative was developed and approved in August.

“I am extremely grateful for the people who lent their time and talent to this new plan,” said Reed. “I am also excited to implement the plan and move forward working collaboratively with policy makers and business leaders to make our state great.”

One of the primary goals of the plan is that 60% of all working-age adults (ages 25-64) in Louisiana will hold a degree or high-value credential by 2030, which means more than doubling the number of credentials from 40,000 in 2018 to 85,000 by 2030.

“We need  more opportunity for our citizens and we must make clear pathways for them to move from poverty to prosperity,” said Reed. “Our goal is to provide lifelong learning, soft skills training and both digital and cultural competencies so they may prosper through lifelong work.”

The new Master Plan is founded on three tenets: education, innovation and collaboration. Reed acknowledges that reaching the goal of 60% attainment of credentials requires the state to accelerate talent development aggressively through identification of new pathways, leaving incremental progress behind. Education inequities must be addressed in the both the PK-12 and postsecondary systems. To improve access and success, the state cannot focus exclusively on bringing more students to college; we also must find ways to bring more college to kids. Reed believes in changing the way Louisiana views K-12 education, thinking of it more as an extension of post-secondary education. She also sees dual enrollment as a key to success. While traditional dual enrollment allows a student to earn both high school and college credits, an innovative part of the Master Plan extends the practice to additional market-relevant credentials such as welding, coding, electrician/instrumentation, drone technology and more.

“Our goal is to make dual enrollment universal and fully integrated so that it is part of the high school experience,” explained Reed. “We are essentially blurring the lines between K-12, higher education and the workforce allowing for more students to enter college with a substantial amount of earned credits or even to graduate high school with a credential to enter the workforce. We will bring forward a plan in partnership with the industry sector for more work-based learning apprenticeships and internships so students are more career and college ready.”

Reed stresses the collaboration portion of the Master Plan noting that for postsecondary education to grow as the plan envisions–and as the state urgently needs–stakeholders across all sectors must embrace the vision for the future.  Four-year colleges, community colleges, faith-based leaders, nonprofits and businesses must pull as a single team to move the plan forward and produce generational change for Louisiana.

“We see ourselves in support of helping people reach their potential and dreams,” stated Reed. “This Master Plan was created for the citizens we serve and it will allow more people to get to that first credential then move up the ladder. We all prosper when more people have access to education and employment, and we all prosper when less people are incarcerated. Ninety-six percent of our working population is from Louisiana. Making this plan work is a matter of necessity and pride.”

In a significant affirmation of the state’s vision and the Board of Regents’ plans and priorities, a recent Moody’s Investment Service report directly tied higher education’s activities to Louisiana’s economic future. Moody’s, a leading provider of credit ratings, research, and financial risk analysis, reported that Louisiana’s Master Plan for Higher Education, if accomplished, will mean “greater economic competitiveness” and will be “credit positive” for the state moving ahead.

Moody’s stated, “The master plan’s greater focus on educational attainment and equity is credit positive for the state’s diverse colleges and universities. An increase in graduates who join the workforce has the potential to create a more favorable state funding environment.”

In just over a year and a half on the job, Dr. Kim Hunter Reed and her team has laid the groundwork for a bold reimagining of Louisiana’s approach to our education system and workforce development. Now, she is set to embark on the challenge of putting her Master Plan into action. She is excited and ready to go to work improving her home.

“I am so appreciative that so many people have welcomed me back home,” said Reed. “The state has committed to stable funding. We have momentum and have moved from the crisis of the day to now thinking big about opportunities across the state.”

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