Tech college system needs money, more students

Della Guidry
February 12, 2008
Robert Mike
February 14, 2008
Della Guidry
February 12, 2008
Robert Mike
February 14, 2008

The Louisiana Community and Technical College System enrolls 52,365 students and is growing, but the system needs around 100,000 more students to meet Louisiana’s workforce needs, said President Dr. Joe May Friday at a presentation in Gray.

The system’s Board of Regents is seeking $27.6 million to renovate and expand seven of the campuses, comprised of 38 technical colleges, seven community colleges and two technical community colleges, plus satellite facilities.

Two of the technical colleges are located in Morgan City and Thibodaux- – Young Memorial and Lafourche, respectively – while one of the two technical community colleges – Fletcher – is located in Houma.

Enrollment in the system grew by nearly 70 percent from fall 2005 to fall 2007, but that increase is not sufficient to meet job demand. The average age of students is 27.

“More jobs require at least some post-secondary education,” May said. “(The system) has to fill the gap. We’re not at the levels of enrollment we need.”

Many buildings were built in the 1960s and are aging and cramped for space, he said, though Fletcher is slated to receive a new campus near the intersection of Louisiana Highway 311 and U.S. Highway 90.

“We’re growing rapidly, but can only grow so much,” he said. “We have to decide between hiring faculty and fixing the air conditioning. We don’t have the dollars to open more classes.”

May said the colleges offer affordable tuition ($23 a credit/hour). However, increasing demand for post-secondary education will require either a tuition hike or $12 million more in state money to keep it low.

The colleges have a three-fold plan, he said, to meet the rising demand: a $15 million “rapid response” program to meet urgent workforce needs, a $12.9 million “pathways to construction” program to train workers for construction jobs, and establishing four “centers of excellence” throughout the state at a total cost of $66 million.

The proposed centers will specialize in specific areas.

The one closest to the Tri-parishes would be the $17.75 million Gulf Coast Institute for Emergency Response, located in south central Louisiana. The institute would train first responders and disaster response and recovery workers.

Greg Garrett, Louisiana Technical College Region 3 director, said enrollment in the three technical colleges in the Bayou Region grew 18 percent from 2005 to 2006.

He cited five occupations that are in demand in the region but which require high-cost training programs: commercial vehicle operators, practical nurses, process technology, welding and commercial diving.

Truck drivers and nurses are in particularly strong demand. Region 3 has to maintain an expensive methanol plant to serve process technology students.

Local industry helped Young Memorial establish the commercial diving program because divers were needed, Garrett said. The same process occurred in Lafourche where waste disposal company SWeeDee donated facilities to help set up a diesel mechanic program.

Young Memorial will also be receiving $5.2 million to construct a new facility next to the existing building, built in the 1950s.

Garrett said low tuition costs at Louisiana Technical Colleges are a problem.

“Tuition charges are kept low to ensure access,” he said. “Tuition cost offsets should be provided by the Louisiana Legislature to support technical training programs.”

Travis Lavigne, chancellor of Fletcher Technical Community College, said Fletcher has the lowest tuition of any community college in the state.

He said the short-term, free “pathways to construction” program at Fletcher has trained 345 participants. A job-training grant from the U.S. Department of Labor enrolled 4,688 participants.

In 2005, Fletcher acquired the Allied Health Facility on Louisiana Highway 311 in Houma.

The college also built the Louisiana Marine and Petroleum Institute in 1981. The institute has $3.8 million for expansion.