Joe May led growth in two-year schools
Joe May, the leader of the state’s community and technical college system, accepted a job Tuesday to lead the Dallas County Community College District starting around Jan. 1.
He leaves after seven years in Louisiana that coincided with an explosion in the growth of two-year schools in the state and the number of people attending them.
The Dallas district’s Board of Trustees named May as its sole finalist Monday.
The nomination won’t become official until the board has a chance to vote again after a 21-day waiting period, according to the district’s media director, Ann Hatch.
May will be leaving the 13-school Louisiana Community and Technical College System and its 70,000 students to join the seven-school district in Dallas, which enrolls about 83,000.
On Tuesday, May said a search firm contacted him about the position in July, and the opportunity to move back to his home state, where his parents, daughter and grandchildren live, was too enticing to pass up.
“I haven’t been looking or planning to leave,” May said. “This really is for me a going back home. It’s where I started my career, it’s where I first got excited about community colleges.”
With his impending departure, Louisiana is losing a polarizing higher education leader who set himself apart from his peers, some say to the detriment of the state’s four-year institutions.
May took a lot of flack this year for pushing a bill through the Legislature authorizing community and technical colleges to borrow more than $250 million for 28 construction projects around the state, including multimillion-dollar efforts to upgrade facilities at Baton Rouge Community College and Delgado Community College in New Orleans.
Supporters described the bill as a landmark proposal that will help the state meet future workforce needs.
Detractors called the bill self-serving legislation that would hurt four-year schools.
In the spring, state Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell said the debt incurred from the projects would come directly off the top of the state’s general fund, essentially saddling all of higher education with $20 million in annual debt payments over the next 20 years.
May won the legislative fight and has since been on the receiving end of criticism from several state officials, including Treasurer John Kennedy and Clinton “Bubba” Rasberry, chairman of the state Board of Regents, which oversees public higher education in Louisiana.
“It was controversial in some camps,” May said Tuesday, “but it expands access to thousands of people who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity” to pursue postsecondary education.
“I’m proud of that,” May said.
May took over as head of the LCTCS nearly seven years ago presiding over a fledgling system created in the late 1990s.
During his tenure, the system has grown from 46,000 students to the 70,000 students enrolled, aided in part by the creation of the Northshore Technical Community College in Bogalusa and Central Louisiana Technical Community College in Alexandria.
The entire network of schools is lauded year after year as being one of the country’s most dynamic, with seven of its 13 schools among the fastest growing institutions in the country.
Schools such as Delgado boast the country’s sixth-largest nursing program, while Sowela Technical Community College in Lake Charles has the 10th-largest engineering technology program in the U.S.
May’s departure looks to be a lateral move pay wise as he goes from a salary of about $271,000 to a system that pays its outgoing president $258,000.
“I really appreciated the close working relationship I’ve had with the Legislature and with Gov. Bobby Jindal,” May said. “The governor has been a strong advocate for our role and mission.”
Jindal, on Tuesday, returned the kind words in a prepared statement wishing May “all the best in his new job.”
“From leading an effort to invest more money at our community and technical colleges around the state to helping redesign our workforce development system, Joe leaves a lasting legacy in Louisiana that will help more of our sons and daughters find great career opportunities,” Jindal wrote.