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Louisiana Higher Education Officials to Reorganize

Louisiana Higher Education Officials to Reorganize
State’s Technical Colleges

By Scott Dyer

Louisiana’s higher education officials are making moves to address efficiency and access as they continue to rebuild in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“The window’s open and we’re going to run as far and as fast as we can till somebody shuts it,” says Louisiana Higher Education Commissioner Dr. E. Joseph Savoie.

At Savoie’s recommendation, the Louisiana Community and Technical College System’s (LCTCS) governing board in March approved a sweeping reorganization of the state’s 40 technical colleges, promising to save money and improve access to higher education in most parts of the state.

The plan teams groups of technical colleges with a community college in the same region.

Using instructors from their regional community college, the technical campuses will for the first time offer accredited college-level courses that can be applied toward a four-year bachelor’s degree.

Previously, the technical college general education courses were accredited only by the Council on Occupational Education, and weren’t accepted by universities and community colleges.

The community and technical colleges were due for a reorganization even before the storms struck the region, but Katrina and Rita forced the state to accelerate the plan.

Concerned about redundant administrative structures, the state Legislature passed a resolution last year directing Savoie to recommend a new organizational structure for the technical schools.

The LCTCS governing board accepted Savoie’s recommendations and adopted a plan expected to save up to $1.5 million per year by cutting administrative jobs.

“The Legislature has raised a lot of issues about inefficiencies and ineffectiveness, and so this is a response to that. But the hurricane has certainly put it in passing gear,” Savoie says.

LCTCS President Walter Bumphus says the reorganization will move decision-making and management toward the local level and improve the quality of the educational offerings at the technical campuses.

Bumphus says he’s excited about the opportunity for students at the technical and community colleges to take four-year college credits under the new plan. Because some of the technical colleges are so small, LCTCS officials had little choice but to group them as part of the reorganization, he says. Ten to 12 schools have fewer than 200 full-time students and will be managed together, instead of having a campus administrator for each site.

Although the reorganization will divide the state’s 40 technical schools into nine regions, each region won’t necessarily have its own administrator.

“Some of these new regions are going to be headed by community colleges, so we won’t need nine vice chancellors,” Bumphus says.
He agrees that the financial crisis created by Katrina and Rita has helped accelerate the reorganization of the system. In all, public higher education in Louisiana sustained $75 million in budget cuts because of the loss of revenue caused by the storms.

“We couldn’t do business as usual, and it gave all of us an opportunity to think about what we wanted to look like 10 years out,” Bumphus says.

He doesn’t anticipate any additional budget cuts and notes that Gov. Kathleen Blanco has proposed a budget increase that will deliver a 5-percent pay raise for the LCTCS faculty next fiscal year.

Newly appointed Southern University System President Ralph Slaughter says he’s excited about the plans to expand community college offerings through the technical campuses, and thinks his system will ultimately benefit from it.

Because historically Black Southern University has traditionally functioned as an open-admissions university, some officials at the school were initially concerned when the state created the LCTCS in 1999 as part of a settlement in a long-running federal lawsuit over racial discrimination at Louisiana’s public colleges.

As part of the same settlement, Southern University at Baton Rouge was required to adopt admission standards that forced some prospective students to look at other options, such as community colleges.

To avoid a loss of incoming freshmen, Slaughter noted that SUBR has launched an ambitious recruiting program targeting high schools within Louisiana and out of state.

With the emergence of the LCTCS, Slaughter says SUBR now needs to focus also on recruiting community college graduates.

“We are going to have to expand on our collaboration with the Community and Technical College System, and do a better job getting those students,” Slaughter says.

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