An Anniversary Worth Celebrating

It seems Louisiana is always celebrating significant anniversaries. When you have a state that is more than 200 years old and a city like New Orleans that’s 300 years old, that’s to be expected. But this year the state is celebrating an anniversary that’s much shorter in years, but truly major in scope.

It was in October of 1998 that voters from across the state went to the polls and passed a constitutional amendment that helped change the entire landscape of postsecondary education in Louisiana. It created the Louisiana Community & Technical College System and over the course of 20 years LCTCS has had a profound impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Louisiana citizens.

In many ways it represented a pretty radical change. Prior to its creation, postsecondary governance in the state was a mess. The state had 13 four-year schools under the auspices of the Board of Regents, seven two-year schools managed by a hodgepodge of universities or agencies, and 44 technical schools run by BESE.

In addition, many of the state’s regional four-year schools were also serving the function of junior colleges requiring either low or no admission standards and offering vocational classes, associate degrees and remedial education.

But the creation of LCTCS turned all of that upside down. Perhaps the most profound impact was on what were then referred to as “vo-tech” schools. For years they were under the management of BESE which may have made sense at one time, but by the late 1990s had become an outdated notion. With BESE’s primary charge focused on improving performance and graduation rates in K-12 education, the technical schools under their umbrella received little real attention.

Given that circumstance, legislators were often the ones who stepped in to fill the void, in many cases treating them like their own personal fiefdoms. Since they were under the jurisdiction of BESE, many of the instructors received the same type of tenure as school teachers which meant the schools were sometimes bloated with unneeded employees and far from the nimble institutions needed to respond to workforce needs.

As for the community colleges, by 1997 the Legislature had gone on a spree, creating three new colleges – at least on paper – and authorizing a feasibility study for a fourth. The problem was that there was no funding in place for any of them, nor any clear notion of a management structure to run them.

That set the stage for the groundbreaking constitutional amendment that voters approved in 1998 which created the LCTCS and with it a strong governance structure that has served Louisiana well to this day. That’s not to say the system has remained static. Over the years, the technical college side has been restructured, campuses have been merged, and various management areas have been reorganized.

Today the system has seven community colleges, four technical community colleges, and dozens of smaller campuses across every region of the state. Unfortunately, two-year schools operated by LSU and Southern University remain outside the LCTCS, a byproduct of politics, but the system we have today is far superior to anything that came before.

In many ways, it’s also improved the quality of our four-year schools, sharpening their focus and clarifying their mission. Most importantly, though, it’s lived up to the vision that many had when it was created 20 years ago – establishing a strong postsecondary presence in every region of the state and making a difference in many thousands of lives.

Next Week: A Track Record of Growth for LCTCS  

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