Mixed results for La. community colleges in new study

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Louisiana community colleges received mixed reviews in a new national study.

Wallet Hub, which researches information for consumers and small businesses, put South Louisiana Community College in Lafayette at No. 658 out of 670 community colleges in the country. In compiling the study, researchers considered cost and financing, classroom experience, educational outcomes and career outcomes.

The highest-rated Louisiana college was SOWELA Technical Community College in Lake Charles, which came in at No. 270. Nunez Community College in Chalmette came in at No. 402, while Fletcher Technical Community College in Houma was No. 520.

Further down the list was River Parishes Community College in Gonzales (No. 621), Bossier Parish Community College in Bossier City (No. 630), Louisiana Delta Community College in Monroe (No. 646), Northshore Technical Community College in Bogalusa (No. 654) and Baton Rouge Community College (No. 667.)

Researchers included measures such as cost of tuition and fees, state and local aid, cost per student, faculty salaries, active/collaborative learning, coursework difficulty, student-faculty interaction, support for students, retention rates, graduation rates, credentials awarded and graduates’ starting salaries.

Overall, the study ranked Louisiana’s community college system was ranked at No. 44 in the country.

Quintin Taylor, executive director of media relations for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said there were concerns about the study.

“As one of the fastest growing two-year college systems in the nation in terms of graduates and enrollment, we don’t believe the report accurately represents the true essence of Louisiana’s community and technical colleges,” Taylor said via email. “We believe the data sources used are flawed and not comprehensive.”

Taylor said that one study by The Brookings Institute identified Northshore Community College as one of the top schools in the nation in terms of its graduates’ earning potential. He added that LCTCS colleges are among the most affordable in the state, and tuition there overall is below the Southern average.

“Additionally, the study is using an outdated U.S. Department of Education system when calculating graduation rates that is built on the traditional four-year university model of a first-time, full-time student,” Taylor continued. “The vast majority of our students are part-time, working age adults who are balancing families, careers and other obligations.”

Some researchers said states need to provide more funding for higher education, including community colleges, if they are to continue on a successful track.

“Building more structured support systems at community colleges requires greater investment in public institutions,” wrote Lauren Schudde, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “Implementing programs and services that support the whole student (financial and academic needs, as well as building softer skills to help navigate college life) can make a big difference in helping students meet their educational goals.”

Schudde added that she would like to see stronger ties between community colleges and four-year institutions, especially for students who want to ultimately earn a bachelor’s degree.

“This would ideally mean that students know up front what they need to do to transfer, are guided throughout the process to meet requirements for transfer while avoiding unnecessary coursework and are prepared for college coursework once they arrive at a four-year college,” she wrote.

Taylor said it was “irresponsible” to suggest that Louisiana community colleges do not have strong relationships with four-year universities in the state, “as each of our colleges have strong and successful partnerships with their local four-year university.”

Taylor added that LCTCS has reached out to the study’s authors to discuss its concerns in more detail.

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