May touts two-year degrees

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Joe May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, speaks at Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday. May said Louisiana doesn't do a good enough job selling people on the benefits of two-year degrees. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Joe May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, speaks at Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday. May said Louisiana doesn't do a good enough job selling people on the benefits of two-year degrees.

Louisiana needs to do a better job communicating the benefits of two-year degrees, the head of the state’s community and technical colleges said Monday.

Louisiana Community and Technical College System President Joe May said he doesn’t want to compete with four-year schools, but rather wants people to see that there is more than one way to land a good-paying job.

Speaking to the Press Club of Baton Rouge, May also said schools should have the authority to set their own tuition and to charge more for high-cost, high-demand programs as a means to stay competitive.

May said close to 9 percent of students who earn an associate degree out-earn university graduates in the first several years after graduation.

May said his mother raised him with the expectation that he would get a degree from a four-year school. The logic, he said, was that everything would work out in the end if you have a baccalaureate degree. “It worked out well for me, but that’s not the only way,” May said.

He credited former Gov. Mike Foster for realizing the need to have a robust system to produce skilled technicians at a time when Louisiana produced the fewest associate degree graduates in the country.

As May explains, workers who have attained advanced degrees, such as engineers, are more mobile and willing to relocate from another state in pursuit of a job.

Workers who complete less school, such as engineering technicians, on the other hand, are most likely to work in the same city where they earned their degree, May said.

Louisiana has a huge opportunity to steer students who aren’t likely to pursue a four-year degree into two-year programs that lead to well-paying jobs, he said.

May also discussed an initiative the state’s higher education management board, the Louisiana Board of Regents, is planning to push in the legislative session starting April 8.

Louisiana’s public colleges and universities have seen their share of state funding drop by $625 million since 2008 as the economy slowed and Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature worked to balance state budgets. State Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell has advocated that Louisiana schools can’t truly be successful without being given the authority to set their own tuition.

Louisiana is next to the bottom nationwide in funding two-year schools and last in funding four-year schools. At the same time, it keeps some of the lowest tuition rates in the nation, he has said.

Declining state dollars coupled with rock-bottom tuition has not been good for the state and continually makes it tougher for Louisiana schools to produce enough highly qualified graduates to fill workforce demands, Purcell said.

On Monday, May explained that programs such as nursing and process technology offered at technical colleges are some of the most expensive programs to provide, while liberal arts degrees are some of the cheapest.

He said schools have to produce 16 liberal arts graduates to pay for one nursing graduate. That discrepancy in cost is one of the reasons May is asking the Legislature to merge Baton Rouge Community College with Capital Area Technical College during this year’s session.

“There’s been a massive shift in the funding of institutions. We’ve gone from mostly state dollars to mostly tuition and fees,” May said. “I don’t think the long-term answer for the state is higher tuition, but there needs to be some flexibility.”