The River Parishes campus of South Central Louisiana Technical College is planning a multi-million dollar expansion set to be completed by 2016. The expansion is needed because the school is actually having to turn students away due to lack of room.
“The word is out. You come here for two years and do your work and you have a career ahead of you. That’s why people are just busting at the seams and our biggest problem right now is we are having to turn people away,” School Director Earl Meador said.
For many, after they leave the school they can get jobs that pay between $55,000 to $65,000 a year. It cost only around $2,000 a year to attend the trade school.
The $8.8 million expansion will focus mainly on a new building for the process technology and instrumentation program. It will also double the size of the welding classes and provide more space for other classes and administrative staff.
Around 40 percent of the students attending the school in Reserve are from St. Charles Parish, including 65 percent of the process technology students.
Meador said while many of the students going to the school come from St. Charles Parish or end up working in St. Charles Parish, the campus serves the needs of the entire region.
Within the last year, SCLTC has seen a dramatic change in the number and type of students they are attracting. Campus Dean Cindy Poskey said students are now considering the technical college as a first alternative out of high school.
“We are going on four years now that we are giving information to high schools about the opportunities here at the technical college and I think we are finally seeing a substantial number of students who are interested,” she said. “There is data to support what we are calling ‘first time freshmen’ that come straight from high school.”
In the past, many students would wait up to 10 years after their high school graduation before going to SCLTC.
“The average age of our students used to be 28 to 29 and right now we are pushing 23 to 24 as an average age. It is a much younger group,” she said.
Two things are likely driving the popularity of the programs offered by SCLTC.
The average wage for students graduating from some of the more sought after programs, such as process technology or welding, is between $55,000 and $65,000 a year and nearly all students are able to get a job right after graduation.“We were almost at 100 percent placement in that last graduating class. Our students find jobs,” Poskey said.
Meador said that rate of placement is almost unheard of anywhere else.
“I challenge any four-year institution to have 100 percent placement,” Meador said.
A large factor in placing students is the abundance of industry in the area. In St. Charles Parish alone there are 23 industrial facilities and even more along the Mississippi River corridor stretching from Baton Rogue to New Orleans. Some students are even recruited by industry outside of Louisiana.
In fact, an integral part of some of the programs is serving an apprenticeship at an industry site while still in school. Meador said a lot of times students end up getting offered jobs before the apprenticeship ends.
“They want to latch onto the students before they exit. They are already very involved in the curriculum, but now they want to secure their future employee before they even graduate, whether they are offering to pay their tuition or give them scholarships. Sometimes they hire and pay someone while they are taking courses,” he said.
The need for students with technical skills is so great that the Satellite Center in Luling has been offering programs for the past few years to prepare high school students for work in technical fields.
In addition, State Department of Education Superintendent John White is now exploring a statewide program that would give students the technical training they need in high school so they can more easily adapt to technical careers.
“He sees a need that businesses and industries are not getting people. After four years in high school people are still not ready to go to college and are not ready to go to technical school,” Meador said. “They are reworking some things on their end of it and we are doing things to feed people into our career and technical program.”
Meador said White is working on getting something in place by as early as the 2014-15 high school year that would allow students to decide between technical and academic tracks.
The expansion at the SCLTC River Parishes Campus is just one of many improvements statewide in the technical education field. Poskey said that the expansion will go a long way toward providing a trained workforce for the area.
“Now as a facility we are probably already five years behind in meeting the workforce demand and training, but we believe it’s doable,” she said.
The River Parishes Campus offers 11 fields of study ranging from certificate programs to associate degrees. Students study in technical, medical and business programs.
|A process technology instructor teaches students at South Central Louisiana Technical College. Students who graduate in this field can earn up to $65,000 a year.|