Tech school sees benefit in GRAD Act

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 19, 2010

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – The Louisiana GRAD Act, approved without opposition by the Senate Education Committee Thursday, is a package proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal aimed at giving public institutions of higher learning more autonomy regarding tuition increases in exchange for increased accountability regarding student performance.

While most four-year colleges would welcome the passage of such legislation, at Louisiana Technical College’s Reserve Campus, the changes would have little effect on day-to-day operations, according to Campus Dean Cindy Poskey.

Poskey said regarding the state’s technical college system, “We have to report how many students enroll, what they complete, what they complete with (degree, certification, etc.) and how they are placed.” She added, “We have lived and died by this.”

She said under the GRAD Act, which stands for Granting Resources and Autonomy for Diplomas, four-year institutions will be required to submit similar information on their student body.

“If you look at four-years, all you ever hear about is enrollment,” she said.

At the technical colleges such information is already tied to a school’s accreditation.

“If we don’t meet acceptable standards, we can lose our accreditation,” said Poskey.

And losing accreditation means losing funding, something the school can hardly risk. Over the past year LTC-Reserve Campus has had to face three rounds of budget cuts this school year alone. This has led to the elimination of seven positions although some of those were through attrition.

“Our biggest hit was the nursing program,” she said.

Poskey explained the school usually starts two classes of about 40 students but was only able to offer one section, which started this month with a class of 35. The next round of classes will not begin until January 2012.

“How much more can we handle before we get to the point where we’re not doing our best?” she wondered.

The tuition section of the GRAD Act, which does away with the requirement of a two-thirds majority vote in the Legislature to approve tuition increases, may help more costly institutions alleviate similar budget woes, but at a school where a credit hour costs only $28, even a 10 percent tuition increase will have little impact.

This is not to say, however, that the Act offers no benefits to both students and schools in the technical college system.

The legislation also guarantees the transfer of credits for students switching schools. Such a guarantee may make enrolling at a two-year college more enticing to students who are on the fence about whether to join a two-year program or seek a four-year degree. And, of course, increased student population means increased funding.

Poskey said the proposed legislation would also force the school to look even harder at the success rates of the different programs.

“I think it’s going to make us leaner and meaner,” she said.