The Secret of Louisiana's Community and Technical Colleges
By Dr. Joe D. May
Many people are surprised to learn that many community college graduates earn a higher salary on their first job after completing an associate's degree than do graduates of four-year colleges and universities. In Louisiana, this fact applies to the average graduate.
Others are amazed that Louisiana's community and technical colleges are the among the nation's fastest growing. Since the creation of the Louisiana Community and Technical System, almost all enrollment growth in public higher education in the state has been at the two-year colleges.
The answer to why graduates earn more money and why students are flocking to two-year colleges is simple - people want a job. More specifically, they want a job that will allow them to have a middle-class life-style.
The secret, that over 110,000 Louisianan's a year have discovered, is that the success of Louisiana's community and technical colleges is that they provide the most direct route to a job that will earn graduates a middle-class wage.
Most middle-class jobs require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree. Yet many people believe that the bachelor's degree is the only route to a high wage job. In today's economy, to proclaim that earning a four-year degree is the only route to success is simply not true.
There has also been disproportionate emphasis given to the attainment of a bachelor's degree as the route to education and life success. This approach has not only resulted in a disservice to students, but has left our employers struggling to find the talent needed to remain competitive in today's economy.
To verify this fact, drive down U.S. Highway 90 in South Louisiana and you will encounter a barrage of billboards announcing available jobs. The jobs being advertised pay a middle-class wage, but require specialized education, such as divers, service technicians, welders, and pipe fitters.
These are not the only jobs requiring one or two years of education that are in high demand. Over the past year, Louisiana's community and technical colleges have started a number of new programs that lead to high-wage jobs, including highway engineering technology, entertainment technologies, cyber security technology, diagnostic medical sonography, radiologic technology, industrial instrumentation, midwifery, alternative energy technician, chemical process operator, logistics technology, non-destructive testing, marine operations, and cardiopulmonary care science.
Almost all of the graduates of these programs will go to work for a higher salary than the average baccalaureate graduate. But there is another benefit for the state when a person earns a one-year certificate or a two-year degree; they tend to stay in the state. The middle-class wage earner is the backbone of strong communities. These are the people that pay taxes, volunteer at their children's schools, support their local churches, and are the volunteers that have been critical to storm and disaster recovery in our state.
While the benefits of earning a one-year certificate or an associate degree are obvious, there remains a considerable gap between the number of people that have attained these credentials and the number of job openings. Most Louisiana employers indicate that they have difficulty in finding the people with the necessary degrees and certifications to meet current workforce needs.
There are many reasons for the gap between the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the workforce and the needs of employers. Regardless of the reasons, Louisiana's community and technical colleges are the best solution for solving the problems faced by employers, building strong communities, growing our state's economy, and creating a growing middle-class.
As our colleges focus on providing the programs and services necessary to build a growing economy and a strong middle class, it is just to acknowledge that we have not been alone. It has been our donors and supporters that have provided the resources and support necessary to make the policy changes, the campus improvements, and the development of new programs that have made this possible. With their support, we will continue to graduate students with bright futures who will contribute to an ever improving workforce and economy for our state.