Local universities like Jindal's proposed WISE Fund - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Local universities like Jindal's proposed WISE Fund

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On the first day of the 2014 state legislative session, Governor Bobby Jindal stressed the importance of investing in Louisiana's colleges and universities.

"We must educate our children, our people, with the skills they need to thrive in this modern economy," he said. "That's why we proposed in our budget to increase overall funding for higher education by $140 million, with specifically $40 million in the WISE fund."

Governor Jindal said the WISE Fund, or the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy Fund, would strengthen the link between college course work and employment needs of the state. The $40 million would be available to all colleges or universities, but there are stipulations. The institution must match 20 percent of the amount they get with private donations. They must also show how the investment will meet the state's workforce needs using data-driven occupation forecasts.

On the second day of session, Jindal's administration fielded concerns from members of the House Appropriations Committee including Shreveport Representative Roy Burrell .

"I'm concerned about this 20 percent match by some universities that might not have the relationships that other universities do," Burrell asked.

So we went to local universities to see if they thought the 20 percent match is possible.

In town for an LSU Board of Supervisors meeting, system president Dr. F. King Alexander was positive when it came to the prospects of LSU-S and schools around the state.

"This is a very flexible way that many of our campuses that already have existing partnerships, that haven't gotten credit for those partnerships, utilize as part of that match," said Dr. Alexander.

Alexander worked with other system heads and the governor's office to come up with the guidelines of the WISE fund.

They took into consideration the private and business relationships each campus already has, and he thinks LSU-Shreveport will have no problem with the 20 percent match. However, Alexander does not want it to end there.

"What we want to do is… encourage our business partners out there to forge these types of partnerships with the university to help produce the graduates that they need to keep right in the areas of where these campuses reside," Dr. Alexander said.

The chancellor of Southern University's Shreveport campus, Dr. Ray Belton, agrees that the WISE fund is a great idea, but he still has a few questions.

"What does the 20 percent constitute?" asked Dr. Belton "Is it all cash? Or is it in-kind services, provisions for internships, property donations? Things of that sort that could ultimately make up that 20 percent."

Dr. Belton said at first glance, the 20 percent match seemed like it might be tough for his campus to raise, but after more research Dr. Belton realized Southern University at Shreveport's mission statement sets the school on that course already.

"We already have relationships with these businesses," said Belton. "I think by way of the collaborative nature of our partnerships provides a door to strengthen our relationships."

A door many colleges and universities would like to see open, if the legislature will give the WISE fund the push it needs to make the final budget.

Governor Jindal's plan to create the wise fund crossed its first major hurdle Monday.

House Bill 1033 creates the fund with the required 20 percent match, and it passed the House Appropriations Committee without objections.

A similar bill is proposed on the Senate side, Senate Bill 526. However, the Senate version requires higher education institutions to match 25 percent of the money they would receive from the WISE fund. That bill is pending in the senate finance committee.

Governor Jindal only needs one of these bills to pass.

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