BATON ROUGE, La. - The Louisiana Department of Education announced the eight school systems that will receive $50,000 Fast Forward regional planning grants. The Fast Forward initiative is designed to increase the number of high school graduates who earn an associate’s degree or participate in a high-demand apprenticeship program before graduation. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved the allocations today during their March meeting.
In January, the Department released a request for applications to support the development of new student pathways as part of its Fast Forward initiative. Planning grants are being awarded to a lead regional secondary school system and its higher education partner in each of the state’s eight regions. The Department and Board of Regents each contributed $200,000 for the total grant cost of $400,000.
“We must be intentional in connecting students to their lives beyond high school graduation,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley. “By further personalizing the high school experience, we will better prepare students and be responsive to the needs of our communities and state.”
The Fast Forward regional planning grant recipients are:
Assumption Parish Schools
DeSoto Parish Schools
East Baton Rouge Parish Schools
Jefferson Parish Schools
Rapides Parish Schools
Richland Parish Schools
St. Landry Parish Schools
Vernon Parish Schools
Each lead school system will collaborate with postsecondary institutions, business partners and economic development organizations. The funds will be utilized to create pathways that allow students to earn a Jump Start TOPS Tech Career Diploma or a TOPS University Diploma while simultaneously earning an associate’s degree or participating in a state‐recognized pre‐apprenticeship/apprenticeship opportunity.
“I’m both excited and thankful for the relationships being developed between PK-12, higher education and the workforce,” said Dr. Brumley. “This initial opportunity holds promise to improve Louisiana as a whole in the long term.”
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.
Details of the initiative were first shared during December’s joint meeting of 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.