Students looking for success in today’s economy may find themselves beginning their search in the wrong place.
“Individuals say a university degree guarantees higher salaries, but this advice is a myth for a majority of students. The economy and the world has dramatically changed,” Dr. Rick Bateman told a group of community leaders and public servants at a lunch gathering in Minden.
Bateman currently is serving as interim chancellor at Bossier Parish Community College and interim director at the Northwest Louisiana Technical College. To some, that may seem like a strange combination, but Bateman says studies show two-year institutions and technical colleges join to play an important role in providing a skilled work force for
“A Harvard study shows 60 percent of high school graduates attending some type of higher education in 2018. Of that number, 33 percent will require a four-year degree or more while the overwhelming majority will needing technical skills or training,” Bateman said.
Many students who graduate may find their degree does not adequately match them with the career they may have chosen, he said.
“The difference between degrees and job skills causes many to be under employed, or “gray collar” workers. Graduates may find their degree did not prepare them for the work force,” Bateman said. “Students have left schools without marketable skills.”
Job ratios now show that for every occupation that requires a master’s degree or greater, two occupations require a university degree while seven call for students who are certified and trained for high skill jobs, Bateman pointed out.
“Employers want to know what you can do and do well, not what degree hangs on your wall. A university degree is no longer a guaranteed path to financial success that it once was. Education combined with technical training is how you have the advantage in the new economy,” he said.
At BPCC and NWLTC, the focus is on the regional economy, Bateman says. While Louisiana ranks near the bottom in several categories, it’s near the top in aligning education with its work force.
“An alignment with workforce needs in the state is what will keep us ahead of the curve,” he said. “BPCC is investing in its relatively new RN program; we’re about to break ground on a building for health occupations programs. We’ll strengthen Louisiana’s technical college campuses as well.”
Bateman says other programs targeting workforce development at both campuses include a new industrial electrician program that is supported by an $83,000 in-kind contribution for training equipment and a BPCC partnership with Benteler Steel/Tube (the giant German steel manufacturer located in the Port of Shreveport-Bossier).
NWLTC is partnering with Northwestern State University in a program that is unique not only in the state, but in the nation, Bateman said.
“Students who complete certification in manufacturing get six hours of college credits,” he said. “There is nowhere in the state or anywhere else where a technical college student with one semester can earn six university hours.”
Bateman says his goal is to build sustainable programs, not something that will die if grant money runs out.
“We have received about $12 million between the two colleges (BPCC, NWLTC) in WISE (Workforce Investment for a Stronger Economy) funds,” he said. “NWLTC got just over $2 million of that.”
Receiving money from the state sometimes isn’t all that easy, Bateman says.
“I’ve noticed a bag of money starts in Baton Rouge and it has a hole in it,” he said. “By the time it gets up here, it’s a whole lot lighter.”
Bateman says he does not mind wearing two hats as the leader of two educational institutions. He joked that a family member, though, might be pleased to see something full-time come along.
“I’m the interim director of the Northwest Louisiana Technical College and interim chancellor of Bossier Parish Community College. My wife says if I don’t get a job pretty soon, I’ll be an interim husband,” he quipped.