The LABI Report: Economic success is education-based

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 24, 2003


Two recent studies on different subjects draw some interesting parallels. One report, “Goals for Education,” was released last June by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), a commission comprised of legislative and education officials from states primarily in the South. The Hudson Institute did the other document, “Economic Vision 2010 Report Card,” for the Indiana State Chamber of Commerce.

The SREB report lists 12 goals for states to use as benchmarks for measuring educational improvement. The Indiana State Chamber study measures how the Hoosier State compares to competitors in key economic development indicators. Both contain some interesting information for Louisiana from the standpoint of education and economic development.

One of the quality indicators in the SREB report is for fourth-grade students to exceed the national average for reading, math and science on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) standardized test. The Indiana study also utilizes NAEP scores for math and science as a quality indicator for economic development. Indiana ranks high in this category with 32 percent of its fourth-graders achieving the proficient level, while Louisiana ranks low with only 17 percent scoring proficient. (The data is based on year 2000 scores, and Louisiana has improved its performance somewhat since then.) Eighth-grade NAEP scores also are deemed critical by both studies, and again Indiana fares well with 33 percent of its students hitting the proficient level compared to only 15 percent in Louisiana (again, based on 2000 test scores).

Interestingly, Louisiana matched Indiana’s indicator on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) for college-bound students, and significantly outperformed Indiana (and many other states) on Advanced Placement exams (which allow high school students who score well to earn college credits without taking some entry level courses).

Associate degrees are often an important economic development indicator, and Louisiana does not fare well in the Indiana study in this category. Only Georgia has a lower percentage than Louisiana’s 7.6 percent of the population with an associate’s degree. Interestingly, however, Louisiana ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of these degrees given in the “knowledge economy” fields that rely heavily on math and science courses (probably due to the technology required in many refining, chemical and petrochemical jobs). According to the study, Louisiana also ranks fourth in the number of bachelor’s degrees granted in the same “knowledge economy” fields.

The Indiana study also lists the cost of a four-year college education as an economic development indicator. Louisiana ranks second in the nation – behind Oklahoma – as an inexpensive state in which to obtain a degree, some $3,000 less expensive than Indiana. The cost factor might help explain another interesting ranking for the Bayou State. While we suffer from a significant out-migration of our citizenry, the Hudson Institute study shows that Louisiana ranks in the top 20 of states who attract more college students from outside than they lose to other states.

Both the SREB goals and the Indiana State Chamber study place a high value on students receiving a high school diploma, and it is certainly a basic indicator of work force preparation. Unfortunately, neither Indiana (84.6 percent) nor Louisiana (80.8 percent) scored well and must improve to be more attractive from an economic development standpoint.

Comparisons between the Indiana study and the SREB goals are both interesting and meaningful. Both states have strong points and weak points, and both (like many other states) have a long way to go to keep up with foreign competitors. Global competition demands that every dollar spent on education and training gets results. The ultimate measure of success in that regard will be the number of quality jobs gained or retained in Indiana, Louisiana and the other 48 states.

DAN JUNEAU is the president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.