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2009 October 21 - 12:00 am

TRACKING TRENDS : State Labor Dept. Says La. Has Too Many 4-Yr. College Grads

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Suggestions from a Jindal administration official that Louisiana has a “surplus” of four-year college degrees rankled members of a commission looking at ways to overhaul the state’s public college systems.

Curt Eysink, executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission, the state’s labor department, told the commission that Louisiana needs more students enrolled in — and graduating from — vocational training and community college programs.

Eysink said there are more graduates with four-year college degrees than the state can employ in their fields, while the state has a shortage of workers needed for skilled labor jobs. He also presented occupational forecasting data that showed the top growth jobs projected for the state included ticket-takers, home health aides, retail salespersons and nurses.

“We do a great job of producing four-year graduates. We don’t do a good job producing two-year completers,” Eysink said. “We’re producing a work force that we cannot employ in Louisiana.”

Members of the Postsecondary Education Review Commission said that means Louisiana needs to do a better job of attracting companies to employ those college-educated workers.

“If I saw the strongest growth area was ushers, lobby attendants and ticket-takers, I’d leave Louisiana too,” said Belle Wheelan, a commission member and president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Commission members said while community and technical college enrollment needed to grow, they didn’t think that needed to come at the expense of four-year university degrees.

“It’s like telling a rich man he has too much money. Can you ever have too many four-year degrees?” said Artis Terrell, chairman of the Louisiana Board of Regents.

For example, Terrell said Shaw Group Inc. founder and CEO Jim Bernhard recently told state officials that he chose to locate an engineering office in Charlotte, N.C., a few years ago because of a shortage of engineers in Louisiana.

Wheelan and commission member Lezli Baskerville, president of the National Association For Equal Opportunity, said the job forecast Eysink gave was disturbing because many categories that are forecast to be the top growth sectors in the state have average salaries below $20,000 a year.

They questioned whether the state had a plan to attract higher salary work to encourage its well-educated graduates to stay, instead of moving to Houston, Dallas or Atlanta.

Eysink defended Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration as working to bring in higher-paying jobs. He said the state needs to boost enrollment in two-year schools and certificated training programs because he said Louisiana has thousands of vacant jobs that can’t be filled because they require training beyond a high school diploma but less than an undergraduate degree.

The Postsecondary Education Review Commission is charged with recommending efficiencies, cost-cutting moves and ways to restructure the state’s four public college systems amid years of projected budget shortfalls and shrinking state funding for higher education.

Any commission recommendations would have to be enacted by the Board of Regents, which oversees public colleges in Louisiana, and the state Legislature before they could take effect. The panel’s report is due by Feb. 12.

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