LOUISIANA: THEN AND NOW
By the numbers, Louisiana has not changed significantly over the past two decades. The population has grown by 194,485, a minimal 4%, and the unemployment rate remained steady at 4.3%. Median incomes have risen significantly- approximately 50% – in real dollars, but once adjusted for inflation the gains show slight increases in family and per capita income and a marginal decline in household incomes. While the population has grown minimally since 2001, most recent Census Bureau estimates show Louisiana has recently lost population, with a decline of almost 11,000 from 2017 to 2018, the fourth-largest loss in the nation.
While relative stasis of population metrics is disappointing, it does underscore the resilience of a state that has experienced multiple catastrophes over this timeframe, from the devastating hurricanes of 2005 to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the historic 2016 floods. The people of the State have stayed, rebuilt, and made better lives for themselves despite the hardship. Postsecondary education – providing opportunity, training, new knowledge, and community assistance – was a critical component in moving Louisiana forward through these setbacks.
Elementary and secondary education, while still in need of improved outcomes, has shown progress in the past twenty years – more high school completions (from a graduation rate of 58.5% in 2001 to 78.1% in 2017), more students graduating academically prepared by completing the core requirements for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) (61% completing the core in 2008, compared to 73.6% in 2017), higher college-going rates (from 46% in 2002 to 58% in 2017), and the number one Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion rate (77.1% in 2018) in the country. These successes offer building blocks on which to accelerate improvement.