The state’s once controversial community and technical college system celebrates its 10th year in operation this year, and by all accounts it’s keeping the promises made to voters when it was created.

When voters were being wooed to support changing the state constitution to create an additional governing board of higher education, officials claimed that the Louisiana Community and Technical College System would help Louisiana make better use of money spent on higher education and provide better job training for industries that don’t need graduates of four-year colleges.

Those goals are in the process of being fulfilled, officials say, and community and technical college enrollment is expanding so rapidly the state is struggling to provide adequate facilities and equipment.

“It’s been great seeing the progress made,” says LCTCS President Joe D. May. “Certainly, the last few years have been a straight up trajectory. Enrollment is 59,000 today and I’m anticipating that number to double in the next 10 years. I think what we are doing is improving access and bringing more people into the system.”

The state’s Occupational Forecasting Conference concluded that 95 percent of the jobs in the years 2006-’09 would require training above a high school degree, but only 28 percent would require a bachelor’s degree from a four-year university. This kind of training between high school and university is the purview of community and technical colleges, yet in 1999 when the new system was created, Louisiana had two universities for every community college, the latter of which were designed to train nurses, electricians and computer technicians. Moreover, the state’s 42 technical schools employed more janitors than faculty, says E. Edwards Barham, a member of the LCTCS Board of Supervisors. He says the technical schools were local fiefdoms, not effective job training programs.

“The overriding objective was to transfer the vocational-technical schools into a comprehensive post-secondary education model,” says Steve Perry, who coordinated the effort for former Gov. Foster. “I think it was one of the most historic things we did.”

The Board of Supervisors of Community and Technical Colleges now serves as the management board for 10 two-year institutions: Baton Rouge Community College; Bossier Parish Community College; Delgado Community College; L.E. Fletcher Technical Community College; Louisiana Delta Community College; Louisiana Technical College (with 40 campuses); Nunez Community College; River Parishes Community College; South Louisiana Community College and SOWELA Technical Community College.

Before the system was created, the state’s universities, colleges and technical schools were operated by various governing boards, none of which specialized in the type of education that community colleges and technical schools provide. Moreover, there was little coordination among institutions, and community college students were not assured that their general education credits would transfer to the universities.

Today, community colleges and universities have agreements that smooth the way for students to transfer from one to the other. Community colleges also offer a few associate’s degrees that transfer as blocks of 60 credits to universities to satisfy the first two years of requirements for specific bachelor degrees. Nunez and Delgado offer associate degrees in teaching grades K-5, for example. Delgado also offers five other “2+2” degrees that transfer to Tulane’s School of Continuing Studies.

The LCTCS works closely with workforce development officials to ensure that job programs match employment needs. Process technicians, for example, are trained at Nunez and a few other campuses around the state for positions in chemical plants and other processing fields. In addition, Delgado is designing a program that teaches the fine art of restoring historic homes. In addition to reviving craft skills such as plastering, students will learn how to work “green,” using environmentally friendly materials.

“At Delgado, we will be the national leader in restoration,” says Chancellor Ron Wright.

The state’s community colleges are also relieving the universities of the burden of teaching developmental courses. Ten years ago too many professors were teaching developmental courses because so many of Louisiana’s high school graduates were not prepared for the rigors of university level English and math. In 2000, Board of Regents figures show that 35 percent of incoming freshmen at four-year colleges were required to take developmental courses. Today, university entrance requirements are more stringent, which routes many of the less prepared students to community colleges. Only 18.7 percent of incoming freshmen at four-year colleges took developmental courses in fall 2007, figures show.

All of these changes have led to a flourishing community and technical college system. Seventeen of the system’s campuses, including three in the New Orleans metropolitan area, were listed as the fastest growing two-year public schools in the nation by Community College Week, a publication covering community and technical college news. Community College Week named the top 50 fastest growing schools using data collected between fall 2006 and ’07.

Nunez, Delgado and Louisiana Technical College in West Jefferson were among the 17 colleges listed, even though they were heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The publication listed Nunez, located in Chalmette, as the eighth fastest growing two-year public college in the “under 2,500” enrollment category and named Delgado as the sixth fastest growing two-year college in the 10,000 category.

Nunez’s enrollment increased 36 percent in 2007, the publication said, and Delgado’s increased 11 percent. Louisiana Technical College in West Jefferson was named the fastest-growing two-year college in the nation with an enrollment increase of 213 percent, from 180 students to 564. Thirteen other Louisiana technical schools also made the list.

Overall, the system increased its enrollment by 13 percent from 2006 to ’07. The system added another 7,000 students in the fall of 2008.
“That’s like adding half of a Delgado Community College,” May says.

In terms of effective governance, Barham says that in 1999 Louisiana was behind the rest of the nation. But in 2009, “There is no state quite like us.”