What kind of college do I need?

“College” may not be what you think it is.

When your teachers, counselors and, yes, this magazine, tell you how important it is to go to college, we’re not just talking about moving into a dorm room and starting on-campus life at a four-year university.

That’s an old definition of “college” that just doesn’t contain all the pathways there are for you after high school in Louisiana today. The fact is, “college” can be any education you complete after high school.

Today, “college” can be 12 weeks of craft training that leads to $15-an-hour starting pay for a future master craftsman.

It can mean a two-year degree in process technology from one of our community or technical colleges and a career in the chemical industry with an eventual salary of $80,000 a year. And of course, “college” still means 4-year degrees that pave the way for success in business and careers like lawyer, teacher or engineer, too.

Since “college” today includes so many different options, we’ve put together the chart on the next page and the information below to help you make the best choice for you.

THE FOUR-YEAR DEGREE

There are big advantages to a 4-year education from one of Louisiana’s fine private colleges or large public universities, which offer a broad base of courses in the liberal arts, including areas such as literature, history, languages, mathematics and the sciences, plus degree progams in broad career areas like engineering, agriculture, animal sciences and pharmacy.

Although these colleges can prepare you for a variety of careers or for graduate study, a bachelor’s degree will also expand your perspective on life and the world and teach you thinking and learning skills that will benefit you for a lifetime. Most people consider that a great investment!

While a four-year degree is a laudable goal—and a necessity for many professional careers—it’s not reasonable or necessary for everyone. Seventy percent of students enroll in a 2- or 4-year college within two years of high school graduation, but many drop out along the way, often thousands of dollars in debt and with no clear pathway to a well-paying occupation.

TWO YEARS OR LESS

With Louisiana’s economy in the midst of an industrial construction boom, alternate pathways such as technical and short-term training, certifications, community colleges and apprenticeships are more viable than ever. Some of the most in-demand occupations today, especially in plant work and construction, require industry certification or a 2-year degree rather than a 4-year degree. 

Sometimes this training is offered by employers, and sometimes by industry groups, like Associated Builders and Contractors. ABC has campuses in Baton Rouge and Lake Charles where students prepare for jobs like pipefitter, welder and millwright. Visit abcpelican.org to learn more. 

Louisiana’s community colleges have open admissions and offer an incredibly wide variety of programs that can set you up for a job and a paycheck you love—everything from computer drafting and design to culinary arts to veterinary technology. They typically offer the 2-year associate degree, technical certificates and training for industry certifications. More than half of the state’s total Pell Grants are issued to community college students. To learn more about Louisiana’s community colleges, visit lctcs.edu.

Technical schools teach specific, high-demand skills for particular jobs. There are 40 state technical college campuses across Louisiana, each with a focus to provide skilled employees for businesses and industries. Diplomas and certificates you can earn from a technical college include Associate of Applied Science (AAS), Technical Diploma (TD), Certificate of Technical Studies (CTS) and Technical Competency Area (TCA).

Technical schools offer short-term training programs, which can be less than a year or up to two years. A certificate is earned upon completion and is in preparation for a national certification exam, a record of work-related credentials that test or enhance your knowledge, experience or skills in an occupation or profession. Certifications are voluntary but may be required for some employers or jobs, such as nursing assistant or HVAC technician.

APPRENTICESHIPS

An apprenticeship is on-the-job training with related classroom instruction where you learn the practical and theoretical aspects of highly skilled occupations. In most cases, the apprentice agrees to continue working for the employer for an agreed period of time after training. Available fields include manufacturing, culinary, electrician and health care.

At graduation, an apprentice has work experience and a solid résumé. With this foundation, apprentices can pursue high-paying full-time employment with their apprenticeship company or with another company in their industry, or even continue their education at 2- and 4-year institutions. Apprenticeships can run anywhere from one to six years, but the average is about four.

Last year, the Louisiana Workforce Commission won a $1.55 million grant from the U.S Department of Labor for the Expanding Opportunities Today to Meet Tomorrow’s Needs project, which is aimed at increasing the number of registered apprentices throughout Louisiana. The LWC is partnering with high schools and the Ochsner Health System, the commission’s primary health care partner in the initiative. While aimed at developing Registered Apprenticeship programs in the surgical technician and licensed practical nurse fields, the LWC hopes to increase the number of all registered apprentices in the state of Louisiana by 100% from 2016 to 2019.

To explore apprenticeship programs in our state, visit laworks.net and select “Career Solutions.” You’ll see that both local labor unions and major Louisiana employers in industry, such as ExxonMobil and General Motors, run apprenticeship programs. Let them put you to work!

To see which pathway is right for you, read our 2017-2018 Louisiana Next Guide to Higher Education

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