Coming out of the May session of 1948, House Bill 212 was signed by Earl Long, then Governor of Louisiana. It established the South Louisiana Trade School to provide vocational training for residents in five parishes: Terrebonne, Lafourche, Assumption, St. James, and St. Charles.
The facility was located on a seven-acre site on St. Charles Street in Houma. Classes opened in July 1951, with full-time day preparatory classes offered in office occupations, drafting, auto mechanics, industrial engines mechanics, and carpentry. A full-time related studies program supplemented the instructional programs, and 883 trainees were enrolled during the first year of operation.
Following the success of the trade preparatory program, extension classes were established so employed folks could upgrade their skills. To give residents of these fields availability, the institution offered programs both on-campus and off-campus in Lafourche, Assumption and St. Charles parishes. In 2012, the school welcomed students to its new main campus along La. Highway 311 in Schriever.
As the school altered over the years to cater to its students by providing training in growing occupations, its name needed to change, too. So, in 1977, it was named South Louisiana Vocational-Technical School; in 1990, to South Louisiana Regional Technical Institute; in 1995, to Louisiana Technical College – South Louisiana Campus. Then in 1999, it was established as Louisiana Technical College – L. E. Fletcher Campus, in honor of a former director.
And 70 years after its doors opened, Fletcher Technical Community College continues to evolve. “One of the things that I think is a hallmark of community colleges is their ability to pivot quickly to respond. So, I think that that’s one of the things that Fletcher has really done well is they have adapted their programs and the training and education they provide based on needs and the jobs that are available,” said Dr. Kristine Strickland, Chancellor of Fletcher.
Strickland joined Fletcher in 2009 as the Dean of Students. She left in 2011 to pursue other opportunities in the college system before returning to serve as chancellor in 2016.
In addition to how proficient the educational institution is in changing with the times, Strickland quickly learned there’s a real sense of family among the students, faculty and staff at Fletcher. “Whether you work there or you’re enrolled there, the culture is one where people care about each other, where people who work there enjoy being together,” she said. “It has a very small family feel to it. And I love that.”
Through its credit, workforce and adult basic education programs, Fletcher serves around 5,000 students annually. It employs approximately 150 full-time faculty and staff members. Strickland noted that the college has a dedicated faculty and staff who are committed to seeing students succeed. “They really believe in what we’re doing here at Fletcher, and I think that that comes across when they work with students,” she said. “The feedback I get from our students all the time is that it’s a really welcoming environment, and they feel like they have a family.”
The community college provides training and education in various fields — from science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to nursing and allied health.
“The biggest misconception a lot of people have is that we just do technical programs. We are a comprehensive community college. So yeah, you can become a welder at Fletcher. But you can also get a degree in criminal justice, or you can get a business degree,” Strickland noted. “We like to tell people we’re not the old vo-tech…Most of our programs, even those that are traditional — like automotive or HVAC [Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning] — are very high tech now. A lot of it is working on computers and interfacing with iPads and laptops. So, it’s a different environment, and that’s really one of the things that we want people to understand.”
Another misconception, Strickland highlighted, regards the college’s accreditation. “When you come to Fletcher, our programs, our classes are accredited by the same group who credit four-year universities. The vast majority of our courses, even some in the technical arena, are transferable to a four-year university. So, you can start at Fletcher and get your first two years at a very reasonable tuition,” she said. “There’s a misconception that if you go to Fletcher, that’s kind of like your endpoint. It’s not. What is beautiful about Fletcher is that you have opportunities to go into the workforce; you have opportunities to transfer to a four-year university. You can go anywhere when you start at Fletcher.”
In 2021, its 70th year, Fletcher has commemorated several advancements in its educational services. One is an agreement with Terrebonne General Health System and Ochsner Health that launched a partnership focusing on the school’s nursing and allied health programs. Ochsner and Terrebonne General each invested $1 million to expand the programs and construct the new state-of-the-art facility, which broke ground in June.
“Currently, many more students apply and meet the criteria to be accepted than we’re able to accommodate. With more faculty and a larger facility, we will be able to meet the growing demand and train more professionals to advance along high-wage career pathways in health care,” Strickland said the day she inked the agreement.
This fall, Fletcher is launching new programs and training in precision agriculture to meet the growing demands in that industry and its Global Online service to give students seeking traditional degrees another option to cater to their schedule.
Strickland also noted that the college is looking to diversify its energy department. “We’ve been long known for the work and the training that we do in the oil and gas sector. And we’re going to continue to do that because we know that that is a critical industry to our region,” she said. “But we also are recognizing and hearing from business and industry that there’s diversification in wind and solar coming to this region, so we are going to diversify our training as well to prepare folks to go into those fields.”
With all that’s in the works for the growing community college, Strickland said she truly sees “a bright future for the next 70.”