Sept. 27, 2016 11:33 AM

Following a record number of graduates and four-year transfers, officials with the Louisiana Community and Technical College System are wondering where additional resources will come from now that a special fund that partly contributed to this growth has been expended.

During the 2015-2016 school year, the state’s community and technical colleges collectively graduated nearly 29,000 students — that’s up from roughly 23,000 graduates during the previous year.

Approximately 80 percent of these graduates earned associate degrees or certifications for in-demand, high-income fields that have been the focus of the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

The most recent school year also included a record-breaking 15,800 students who successfully transferred to four-year universities.

Tim Hardy, chairman of the LCTCS Board of Supervisors, said the results were aided by the one-time investment of the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy Fund, or WISE Fund. Signed into law in 2014 by former Gov. Bobby Jindal, it directed $12 million to two-year colleges.

Dr. Monty Sullivan, president of LCTCS, asked the system board to authorize 100 percent of the fund’s appropriation for “high-value programs aligned with local workforce demands,” like computer science, process technology, construction crafts, engineering technology, industrial production, allied health, manufacturing and accounting.

“Those funds have been able to touch thousands of people,” Sullivan said. “The result is thousands of people with credentials who are able to go to work and take care of their families who were not in that position a year ago.”

Sullivan said he does not want to lose sight of the significant role that the WISE Fund played.

“Now that WISE funds are depleted, the question becomes what’s next?” he asked. “How do we continue to close the skills gap and the educational attainment gap, which helps to solve two of our state’s biggest problems?”

As part of the solution, Sullivan pointed to “Our Louisiana 2020: Building the Workforce of Tomorrow,” which is a workforce-development plan. It calls for increasing the number of LCTCS graduates to 40,000 annually and quadrupling the number of student transfers to four-year universities.

The record-setting figures from the most recent school year puts the system on pace to accomplish these goals, Sullivan said, but there’s still a great deal of work to do.

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