The speed at which a project moves often indicates the amount of celebration that comes with the completion.

Short timelines, even with high rewards, are often lauded and then forgotten. Or, at least, celebrated briefly.

Long timelines? The years of slugging, arguing, and fighting for something in which you believe? The vindication in knowing that, in the beginning, you were right? Those stick, hard, not just for those who fought – but the people they benefit.

That’s why the groundbreaking and eventual opening of the new Northshore Technical and Community College in Walker is such a special event. The Literacy and Technology Center, while important and has proven its use over the years, was a compromise at an early 1990s attempt to draw a community college – or true Southeastern satellite campus – to the parish.

The Literacy and Technology Center has been an important compromise, to be sure, as a vocational institution for high school students interested in anything from nursing to vehicle repair; as well as an adult educational facility that provided a venue for professional expansion and basic life skills such as typing, Microsoft products, and personal finances.

But the numbers just weren’t there, for many years, to push Southeastern to make the investment – or have a community college type system enter the marketplace.

Until now, that is.

More than 78% of Louisiana high school seniors graduated in 2017, which totaled 39,370 – an increase from 38,859 in 2016 and nearly 3,000 students higher than the 2013 total. More importantly, however, is the number of those students who are enrolling in college – a number that sits at 23,517, or about 60%.

This number includes all types of institution - full-time, four-year institutions, community colleges, and technical institutes. There are over 30 post-high school educational campuses in Louisiana, serving nearly 215,000 students. Many colleges not named Louisiana State University have benefitted from an ACT requirement increase at the state’s namesake institution, which is now embattled as University President F. King Alexander seeks to take advantage of the student loan bubble by attempting to return the test score requirement to lower levels.

Student loans now account for nearly $1.5 trillion in personal debt service.

Meanwhile, school systems – including Livingston Parish – have shifted junior and senior focus to split between normal academic strategies and vocational training. The benefits are two-fold – for those who do intend to attend college, at any level, a clearer picture of ‘what you want to be when you grow up’ tends to form when you’re thrown into a real working situation. Second, vocational training tends to lead to either more affordable college paths, or licensing out of the gate which provides an excellent pay scale for an 18 year old.

For instance, NTCC’s tuition and fee schedule for the 2016-2017 academic school year was $3,108.24 for 22 credit hours. LSU? 24 credit hours and housing - $20,000. That doesn’t include TOPS, which currently applies for LSU and expansion to the community college system is being considered by the Louisiana Legislature.

As you can see, four years hits that $80,000 mark at LSU. It should be noted that it is no longer the cool thing to do to graduate in four years. For the technical college, which can offer most tech-based paths in two years, you’re looking at $6500.

In a world where student loan debt capitalizes unpaid interest, well – one of those options looks much more affordable than the other, especially if you’re trying to attract 40% of in-state, graduating seniors who are choosing to avoid the next level of education.

These factors have created the most appropriate landscape for a community college to find its way into the parish. A partnership between NTCC and Southeastern will give in-parish students a chance to stay close to home, and continue to study. The School Board can also intends to partner with the institution to offer even more options for juniors and seniors who are looking to either advance in their studies or avoid having to take redundant college course all together.

Livingston Parish has, after all, advanced to one of the highest level of AP offerings in the state.

Don’t get the folks at Livingston Economic Development started on workforce development and it’s attractiveness to potential businesses – you’ll have to ask them politely to stop. College campuses also tend to bring commercial development to real estate nearby – especially service industry type locales.

Much like the Comite Diversion Canal, a multi-decade political and financial battle has come to a close – and the people of Livingston Parish will reap the benefits.

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