Louisiana Board of Regents’ COVID-19 Response
Thank you, First Lady, for allowing me to reflect on the challenges and opportunities higher education faces in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the aftermath of Hurricane Laura and so much more. We are grateful for your passion for education and the students across Louisiana.
This academic year will be one of the most challenging we have ever faced – with a global pandemic, a devastating hurricane, racial unrest, and significant economic hardships impacting our state and our students. In the face of these challenges and all of the uncertainty that abounds, we are certain of this – higher education is a strategic asset and is critical to Louisiana’s recovery.
Getting people back to work with the education and training they need – that’s what we do. Advancing critical research to fight this pandemic, save lives, solve the pressing challenges of the day, and lead the economic future of the state – we do that too. Joining together to provide donations, clean up campuses, and respond to the needs of our communities in the aftermath of a natural disaster – we proudly do that as well.
As we in higher education prepared for this fall, it was never with a focus on reopening, because we never closed. The education and learning never stopped, even in the midst of a global pandemic, because we knew that students were counting on us to offer access to opportunities. We could not let them down. We are also vital members of our communities, and they too were counting on us.
As the fall semester began across Louisiana a few short weeks ago, we welcomed students back to campus – mostly online, but some in person – with masks and social distancing required. Though it’s not easy, our institutions are committed to keeping the education and training going safely and effectively. Our focus is on maximizing equity of opportunity for all of our students. Our priority is to minimize disease spread through our campus safety and sanitation protocols, informed by public health experts and CDC guidance. In the end it’s about the students and we are counting on them to keep each other safe.
In responding to these many challenges, collaboration is key. When planning for a safe return to campus in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, we partnered with Louisiana’s Office of Public Health to make sure education and public safety are always closely paired. Our partnership has helped to inform individual planning processes for all institutions across our state – public, private, proprietary, two-year, four-year, and HBCUs – and that collaboration continues.
As we all know, Louisiana is battle-tested, so in that sense we are always crisis-ready. Emergency planning is in our DNA. Whether responding to a hurricane like Laura or a pandemic like COVID-19, our state has an effective emergency response structure led by our Governor that fosters continuous cross-agency communication and collaboration to respond to critical situations. Any time we have a disaster, the lessons learned from large-scale events like Hurricane Katrina are immediately discussed and relevant best practices are implemented.
While I remain confident in our processes, my work as Commissioner of Higher Education must transcend policy and paperwork. This work is about people. We know there are challenges. We hear every day from students and parents worried about campus safety. Others are financially struggling and can no longer afford tuition, while many of our student parents are trying to figure out if they can balance their children’s hybrid schedules with their own classes. We continue to make sure students and families know that there are many academic options and resources available to help keep them on track.
This week I surveyed hurricane damage on our college campuses filled with debris and buildings in disrepair. I’ve spoken with students and walked with families, including my own, in Lake Charles, my hometown, who have lost so much to Hurricane Laura. Our people are hurting and tired, but our resolve is stronger than our fatigue and together we will rebuild and move our state forward.
I am so very proud of our system and campus leaders, faculty and staff and my own Board of Regents team who have responded so impressively and immediately to keep education going throughout these crises, support the health care surge, provide relief and recovery efforts, and support our amazing students.
In many ways, Louisiana’s higher education institutions were made for this challenging moment. As we face two major emergencies, we know that we can’t rebuild or recover without education and our unwavering commitment to our people. That’s what makes Louisiana special and Louisiana strong.
For more information on the Louisiana Board of Regents’ COVID-19 response, click here.