Monty Sullivan, Louisiana Community and Technical College System president

Graduates from Louisiana’s Community and Technical College System totaled only 4,776 in 2006 but grew to 25,565 by 2013, Monty Sullivan, the system’s new president, noted Monday.

Sullivan also told members of the Press Club of Baton Rouge that those associate degrees transformed into $502.7 million in 2007 salaries and surged to nearly $1 billion estimated for 2014.

Louisiana is blessed with natural resources that include abundant water, oil and natural gas, Sullivan said, before adding, “Our greatest natural resource is our people.”

Sullivan urged continued support for the state’s two-year colleges.

“We all know about the economic expansion we’re going through today,” Sullivan said in reference to tens of billions of dollars in planned and ongoing industrial construction projects across the state.

“Who will build those facilities?” Sullivan asked. “Who will operate those facilities?”

Louisiana residents should fill those jobs, Sullivan urged.

“We have 600,000 adults in Louisiana without a high school diploma,” Sullivan said before emphasizing those men and women remain capable of learning and becoming productive.

He said the average age of students in Louisiana’s two-year schools is 27.

Many of those students already have been “to the school of hard knocks, so they’ve learned a lot,” Sullivan said.

There has been tremendous demand for people to fill Tier One jobs, those paying more than $50,000 annually to two-year graduates.

Sullivan said some of those jobs are for people trained in engineering technology, finance and accounting, computer and information science, construction crafts, welding, electrical and industrial production.

But Tier One graduates totaled only 9,225 in 2012, Sullivan said, when demand totaled 29,200.

Such gaps should not exist indefinitely, he said, adding that employers must be consulted in order to maximize Louisiana students’ chances of grabbing well-paying jobs as today’s industrial expansion continues for years into the future.

“Employers are a part of the discussion,” Sullivan insisted. He said they help educators determine the size of demand for certain jobs, help recruit students for two-year degrees and help fund scholarship programs.

All of that fits with Sullivan’s past work in education.

Sullivan was appointed head of the two-year college system in February, after serving as chancellor of Delgado Community College in New Orleans.

He is known as a supporter of the Single Stop program. Single Stop USA is a New York-based nonprofit that connects low-income families with benefits and services they qualify for but possibly don’t know about.

The organization sets up offices on college campuses to provide students with such assistance.

Sullivan told his audience at the Belle of Baton Rouge that each graduate of Louisiana’s two-year college programs in 2000 cost the state $21,120. He said each 2013 graduate cost the state $5,253.

Two-year enrollment topped 74,000 last year, Sullivan noted. He said that total did not include 35,000 other residents engaged in workforce training and another 33,000 enrolled in adult basic education courses.