Louisiana’s community and technical colleges are embarking on an aggressive, six-year plan that includes doubling the number of graduates and their total earnings, quadrupling the number of students they send to the state’s four-year schools and significantly increasing private dollars and partnerships with businesses.
“I don’t think it’s any secret to anyone that the biggest issue today is Louisiana’s workforce,” Louisiana Community and Technical College System President Monty Sullivan said Wednesday. “We take this challenge very seriously.”
The six-part plan, which the system has set out to meet by the year 2020, would have the state’s community and technical college system graduating 40,000 students a year and the annual earnings of its graduating class at $1.5 billion.
“We’re within striking distance of having our first billion-dollar earning class,” Sullivan said. “The impact is huge.”
If its goals are met, the system would send at least 10,000 students a year to Louisiana’s four-year universities — something Sullivan said would also strengthen those schools, and it would create at least 1,000 individual partnerships with private businesses throughout the state.
Under “Our Louisiana 2020,” which the system Board of Supervisors unanimously approved during a meeting Wednesday, the community and technical colleges also will place a stronger emphasis on jobs that the state has identified as “tier one,” or the most in demand, which generally include engineering technology, computer science, construction trades, finance and accounting, welding, industrial production and electrical certifications.
“You’re going to see a substantial shift toward those areas,” Sullivan said.
It’s not yet clear what that shift could mean for other areas that aren’t seeing as high of demand on the workforce side but still see interest among students. Sullivan said community colleges have more flexibility in re-prioritizing than four-year colleges do, though.
“It will not be fun for everyone, but we must become more productive in those areas,” he said.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal praised the system’s plan and the community and technical colleges, which he sees as “a pipeline of skilled workers for the companies that are expanding in our state.
“This plan will help us connect more of these students with great careers, and it will help us continue Louisiana’s economic momentum for years to come,” Jindal said.
The plan was formed over the course of several months with input from various groups, including state workforce and industry leaders.
One of the key components of the plan is strengthening partnerships with businesses and building up community colleges’ private funding capabilities.
It calls for the foundations that support Louisiana’s community and technical colleges to increase their assets to $50 million — twice their current $25 million holdings.
“It is a very different time in higher education,” Sullivan said.
He said it’s also an evolving time for community and technical schools, which he said are moving away from the position of “taking the scraps” that don’t go to four-year colleges.
“The industry demand is changing the conversation,” he said.
He said much of the focus is on meeting evolving demands — being a place that trains people who have already worked in one field but want or need to change.
“The economy today requires that people come back to our system over and over again,” he said.
Sullivan said he also wants the plan to signal that schools are moving away from the view that two-year colleges are just competing with four-year schools for the annual class of high school graduates.
“We’re making progress, there’s no question about that, but you don’t make progress focusing on 40,000 high school graduates every year,” he said.
Sullivan said the focus provided in the plan will help more people get into well-paying jobs after just a couple of years of training, many of them older with more “life experience.” It also will help the state meet the growing demand being driven by the booming chemical and petroleum industry and technology sector.
“Our board believes the only way for us to meet the needs of this great state is to be aggressive and embrace the workforce challenge head on,” LCTCS Board Chair Woody Oge said. “This plan does that, and it sets the stage for future generations to learn and earn by securing good-paying jobs right here in Louisiana.”
Sullivan pointed to process tech operators as an example. Process technicians oversee operations at industrial plants, including refineries. Plants need certified process technicians on the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and they can earn around $70,000 to upwards of $100,000 a year, according to River Parishes Community College President Dale Doty.
Louisiana’s projected to need at least 5,000 people trained for that job in the coming years — twice what it has today.
“Under these projections, we’ll have more process operators than schoolteachers one day,” Sullivan said. “We are the institutions that produce process operators.”
Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp.