Photo Caption: The new EBR Career & Technical Education Center at 2115 Lobdell Blvd. as seen on Monday Oct. 22, 2018, in Baton Rouge, La.
Kendrall Webb rolled her wheelchair to the front of the room Monday morning and posed a question to a panel of leaders of Baton Rouge colleges and universities.
“What’s the minimum ACT requirements to get into one of your schools?” the high school junior asked nervously.
LSU President F. King Alexander explained to Webb how the state’s flagship university is accepting more students these days whose grades or scores on the ACT college placement test are slightly below their admission standards. It’s a move that has provoked criticism, but it got a warm reception Monday from Webb and her classmates at the EBR Career & Technical Education Center, which opened in August.
“We’re going to take a careful look at these students that are on the edge,” Alexander said.
For instance, students typically need at least a score of 22 on the ACT to get accepted to LSU — the average ACT score is 26 — but the university will make exceptions if it believes the students have potential belied by their standardized test scores, he said.
We had a valedictorian from a rural high school who was homeless,” Alexander recalled. “Her ACT score is about a point lower than where it should be. She’s now enrolled at LSU.”
For students who are beating the odds — “which I know you’re doing every day,” Alexander told Webb — “we’re going to take a good, careful look at you,” prompting a smile from the teenager.
Alexander spent about 30 minutes answering the students’ questions. He was joined by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, East Rouge Parish School Superintendent Warren Drake, Baton Rouge Community College Chancellor Larissa Littleton Steib, and Manicia Finch, an associate vice chancellor at Southern University.
They were visiting the new career training center to spread the word about “Capital Area Promise.” This initiative, launched in September, is aimed at putting more Baton Rouge children on the pathway to college and a good career.
The promise is modeled on the “Long Beach College Promise,” an initiative Alexander undertook at his previous job as president of California State University, Long Beach. That was a far-reaching partnership with the Long Beach Unified School District that, among other things, provided for a tuition-free semester at the Cal State campus.
The “Capital Area Promise” is less generous — it’s highlighting existing ways students can get admitted to and help pay for local colleges and universities — but it’s also broader, incorporating a separate initiative by Mayor Broome to bolster early childhood education in East Baton Rouge Rouge Parish.
“We are committed to your success, and we want you to know that,” Broome told the students.
The Career & Technical Education Center is seen as part of this promise because it’s meant to get more students on a better footing after they graduate from high school. A total of 114 teenagers from nine public high schools in Baton Rouge spend half their school day at the new center. They are taking specialized career and skilled trade courses in four areas: computer science, medical fields, construction crafts and manufacturing.
The center, at 2101 Lobdell Blvd., holds its grand-opening ceremony Tuesday at 6 p.m. It also has teamed up with its next door neighbor, Baton Rouge Community College’s new automotive training center, which opened in 2016.
You are working on the latest and greatest technology, so when you leave here you are ready for your career,” BRCC Chancellor Larissa Littleton Steib told the students. “You’re armed and ready, so I’m very happy for you.”
Superintendent Drake said he expects enrollment at the Career & Technical Education Center will nearly triple by next year, but he wishes he could expand it further.
“I want every student to experience this type of school,” Drake said.
Alexander said persuading political leaders in Baton Rouge and Washington, D.C. to commit to expanding college attendance has been difficult.
The biggest challenge I have is seeing people climb the ladder of opportunity to get on the boat and then turning around and pulling the ladder up,” he said.