By Leigh Guidry, Lafayette Daily Advertiser
The Louisiana Community and Technical College System is five years into a six-year plan aimed at driving the system forward and positively impacting the state by 2020.
The plan, Our Louisiana 2020, launched in 2014 with six long-range goals.
With one year left to go, system officials anticipate checking off all but one by June 30, 2020. The system already has accomplished two of its goals and is on pace to meet three more.
The goals set in 2014 are:
- Double graduates to 40,000 annually
- Double earnings of an annual graduating class to $1.5 billion
- Quadruple student transfers to universities to 10,000 annually
- Double students served to 325,000 annually
- Quadruple partnerships with businesses to 1,000 annually
- Double foundation assets to $50 million
“Five years in, these goals are still relevant,” system President Monty Sullivan said. “There are direct connections between the goals and improving the lot of people of Louisiana.”
Together the system’s 12 colleges have more than quadrupled the number of student transfers to four-year universities and the number of partnerships with businesses, exceeding these goals set in 2014.
“Transfer students are becoming a big part of the mission,” Sullivan said.
Starting at 2,149 student transfers system-wide in 2014, the goal was 10,000 by 2020. Five years later, schools saw 14,365 transfer students in 2019 with even more in 2016 and 2017.
A bulk of those went to schools within the University of Louisiana System (8,215 in 2019), with the most heading to Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Both have multiple articulation agreements with LCTCS schools, making it easier for students to transfer from a two-year school and continue their education. The system’s 12 colleges have articulation agreements with each public university in the state, Chief Education and Training Officer René Cintrón said.
Such partnerships, often called “2 (years) + 2 (years)” agreements, tie similar programs together, allowing students to build on the knowledge obtained in an associate’s degree program in, say, application software development at South Louisiana Community College and complete a bachelor’s in informatics down the road at UL Lafayette.
“Those things didn’t happen five years ago,” Sullivan said, adding that it’s not just about the agreements but about building relationships between institutions and businesses. “The impact goes well beyond numbers.”
Increasing the number of partnerships like these was another of the system’s targets. It has quadrupled the number of partnerships with other institutions or business and industry. Starting with 244 in 2014, the goal was 1,000 by 2020. It surpassed that goal by 2017 and currently has 2,062 partnerships across the system.
With respect to business partnerships, SLCC really had only about eight in 2014, Chancellor Natalie Harder said. Her team has built connections and grown that number of business partners to more than 100 now, which in turn impacts her students.
“With their industry knowledge, these partners make our programs stronger and our students more successful,” Harder said.
Central Louisiana Technical Community College has made similar strides, adding more than 75 partnerships over the last four years.
“It’s about relationships and solving problems for students,” whether that is through an associate’s degree or training toward a credential in forklift operation, CLTCC Chancellor Jimmy Sawtelle said.
The school, which has campuses in Alexandria and across Central Louisiana, focused on increasing its number of graduates and students.
“(Our Louisiana 2020) has allowed us to skill students to become gainfully employed.”
Across the system there are more than 40 multi-institution partners, which means they might have employees serve on an advisory committee that hires graduates, donates resources, provides scholarships or internship opportunities or assists with training or new program creation.
“Business partners have become really critical to helping us know where we’re headed,” Sullivan said.
The system is on pace to double its number of graduates to 40,000 in a year. There were 19,810 in 2014, used as the baseline.
In 2019, that figure was up to 32,053 graduates with credits or credentials. Slightly more than half (17,180) graduated with traditional credits and the rest (15,876) earned an industry-based certification.
“It’s the fastest-growing credential,” Sullivan said. “Industry is hiring skills.”
This was an emphasis at Bossier Parish Community College in northwest Louisiana, which saw a 125% increase in its number of graduates or completers from in 2014 to today — 925 to 2.171.
The college increased the number of students earning short-term credentials by adding new programs or growing existing programs with non-credit and certificate options, like many in the cyber field to align with this large job market in north Louisiana, Chancellor Rick Bateman said.
“These make folks eligible for work in this area,” Bateman said. “Many who are coming to us have bachelor’s degrees but may lack a credential they need to get those jobs.”
The system expects to hit 40,000 grads in 2020.
Working closely with business and industry also has helped the system get closer to its target of increasing foundation assets system-wide. Officials anticipate exceeding the goal by $3.9 million by next year.
The goal was to double the $24 million the system had in 2014 to $48 million by 2020. It has $46 million in assets in 2019.
Most of those are not traditional philanthropic gifts but investments from industry, Sullivan said.
This also was an area of focus for BPCC. In 2014, its foundation assets totaled about $1.77 million, and the college grew that 170% to more than $4.77 million in 2019.
Bateman said that growth was accomplished through a capital campaign, building on great relationships with the community and being good stewards of previous endowments and investments.
The system began measuring earnings based on each graduating class after finding wages are an indicator of what business leaders value, Sullivan said.
So one of the six long-term goals was to double earnings of an annual graduating class to $1.5 billion by 2020. So far, the earnings of a class has grown from $723 million in 2014 to $1.06 billion in 2019.
This impacts the state as graduates return millions of dollars in new taxes every year, he said.
“More people skilled means more people working means more people paying taxes,” Sullivan said, adding that helping people move away from dependence on state services is a cost-savings to the state.
The final goal set five years ago was to double the number of students served from 164,465 in 2014 to 325,000 in 2020. This is the one the system is not on pace to meet by next year, as the number has actually decreased some to 161,664 in 2019.
The number of students served dropped as low as 130,010 in 2017 and has risen by about 30,000 since. Those figures include for-credit students, those coming from the workforce and those in adult education, or WorkReady U.
“We’ve had a great deal of success, but there’s still work to be done,” Sullivan said.
Some of that work could be in the services provided to support the population of students at LCTCS schools. They tend to be older, have families and jobs, and face other challenges like childcare, transportation and food insecurity, “particularly in rural communities,” he said.
“These can be the difference between finishing a program or not,” Sullivan said.
That could mean expanding benefits like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and childcare for students or narrowing time in school with “earn-while-you-learn” programs that allow students to work and continue their education.
“We have to find a way in higher education to take students closer to the marketplace,” Sullivan said. “We have to find ways to narrow the time frame to get into a job that can change their life and continue to learn.”
But time is not up just yet. “The clock is still running” on these goals, Sullivan said, and he and his team are starting “preliminary discussions about the next version of this.”