Just as the nation and state's economic conditions have shifted, so too has higher education.


Just as the nation and state's economic conditions have shifted, so too has higher education.


Beginning Monday, official consolidation of the region's community colleges is being aligned to better accommodate the job sector's demands for a qualified, skilled labor force.


Yesterday, Dr. Jerry Ryan, the new Acting Chancellor for La. Delta Community College, toured Bastrop and spoke with parish and city officials, including new MP Schools superintendent Dr. George Noflin.


“Community colleges are working to better provide customized training for local businesses,” Ryan said in an interview at the Enterprise office.


Ryan touted the benefits of consolidation, ranging from students' ability to now transfer courses earned at Bastrop's campuses to the University of Louisiana at Monroe, to literacy/ GED prep classes, to an enhancement in dual enrollment opportunities for high school students.


In Bastrop, there were more students last semester at both Northeast Louisiana Technical College campuses than any of the other four campuses in the umbrella system combined.


Ryan said an expansion of technical degrees and certification programs – from nursing and medical assistants to the welding, bookkeeping, agriculture and hospitality sectors – should lead to a further increase in local enrollment.


That would foster higher employment, with an underscore of trying to match skills with the need of a rising local retiree population.


“Ninety percent of jobs today now require a post-secondary training, but not necessarily a college degree,” Ryan noted. “We see employers not as interested in workers with degrees as they are those with clustered skill sets.”


His statistic is bolstered by information compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which has reported that expected job growth for nurses is 22 percent, job growth is expected at a healthy 17 percent for radiologic and X-ray technicians, and job growth in the physical therapy industry is expect to reach 30 percent between 2008 and 2018.


That's in stark contrast to the once-dominated perception that in order to get ahead students were supposed to earn a college degree.


New U.S. Dept. of Labor figures show that 54 percent of bachelor's degree-holders under the age of 25 were jobless or under-employed in 2011.


Noflin said continual work in collaborating with the community colleges is “very important” to the school district.


MP Schools had more dual enrollment students – whereas high school students can earn college courses before they graduate – than most school districts in the region.


“That's a feather in our cap,” Noflin said.


He said the dual program goes a long way in addressing many students' apprehension about whether they can succeed in college by getting a sample of it ahead of time.


“If they can partake in college early it takes away some of the fears that they can't do it,” he said.


Ryan and Noflin also discussed the high dropout rate of MPS students, which the district has tried, in part, to address by establishing a ninth grade academy at Bastrop High.


“He (Ryan) emphasized some continued help they could do for that on the junior high level,” Noflin said.