Higher Ed Check-in
Area colleges and universities are packed with new programs and partnerships this fall
Local institutions of higher learning are a tremendous, if sometimes underappreciated, asset for Southeast Louisiana. New Orleans alone boasts eight colleges and universities. Along with the community colleges, they comprise a major economic sector, employing more than 12,500 people.
The schools provide multiple programs benefiting local residents — from health care to the arts to continuing education. Collectively, they educate the largest percentage of metro area students, while drawing talented young people from all over the country and world.
Given their powerful, positive impact, it is a relief to hear that these institutions are doing better than many of their national counterparts. Across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a huge drop in college enrollment, forcing many schools to curtail programs and cut staff.
Locally, many of the schools have increased student populations, and virtually all are launching new programs and buildings projects, many of which involve partnerships with the business and nonprofit sectors and even with each other. Quite a few focus on training professionals in various healthcare fields, helping address severe staffing shortages in that sector.
While concerned about the current coronavirus spike, all anticipate returning to relatively normal campus routines this fall — though online learning is a permanent addition to the educational environment. Many programs will be hybrids of in-person and online classes, in the year ahead and well into the future.
Delgado Community College
Perhaps the most visible new on-campus construction will be the Delgado Nursing and Allied Health Building, currently emerging at the corner of City Park and Orleans Avenues. In partnership with Ochsner Health, the 120,000-square-foot structure will be home to the Charity School of Nursing, which was founded in 1894 and became part of Delgado in 1990.
“The building will house the registered and practicing nurse programs,” said Dr. Cheryl Myers, provost and vice chancellor for student affairs, “along with the majority of the allied health programs. State-of-the-art classrooms, skills labs and a simulation hospital will allow for interprofessional collaboration and education.”
The project was seeded by a $10 million gift from Ochsner, which added another $10 million for scholarships for students and related programs.
Myers added that “another new building that will house the culinary arts and some technical programs is being planned.” These exemplify the type of programming that requires hands-on, in-person learning, even as Delgado continues to expand its online classes.
With six area locations, Delgado can serve students closer to home, a distinct plus for those who are working as they study. The oldest and largest community college in Louisiana, Delgado is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, while preparing to serve the region for another century.
Another theme common to many local higher education institutions is ensuring continued student access to education opportunities. Exemplifying this Dillard University, the HBCU in Gentilly that traces its history back to 1869. For the second year in a row, the university is not raising its tuition.
In addition, David Page, vice president of enrollment management, noted that “Dillard provides a competitive and generous merit-based and need-based aid grant program.” While some schools cut scholarships during the pandemic, Dillard “was able to maintain offering an additional grant to each eligible student.”
Another step toward increasing student access, said Page, is “for those students who did not have the opportunity to test, Dillard went test-optional for the 2021 academic year.” Instead, the university accepted various other credentials and recommendations. With COVID-19 disrupting standard testing access for many high schoolers, this flexibility made a vital difference; Page reported that “about a third of the new student population for fall 2021 are test-optional.”
As the oldest HBCU in Louisiana, Dillard offers programs with consistent themes of cultural heritage and racial justice. Indeed, the Center for Racial Justice is at the forefront of addressing national issues around policing and people of color. Key additional programs include the Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center, the pre-law program, and the Ray Charles Program in African-American Material Culture.
No local school is bucking the national trend of declining enrollment more than Loyola University. “We are welcoming the largest incoming class in our history,” said Loyola President Tania Tetlow. “We’re up 20% over our normal target, at nearly 1,000 new students from 43 different states.”
Tetlow attributed this growth to several factors, starting with the appeal of New Orleans as a setting and a Jesuit university as a context. She also cited the university’s efforts to respond to the needs of both students and potential employers as boosting enrollment.
“We have been working with GNO Inc. to identify where the local business community needs training for its employees,” she reported, “and matching those needs with our strengths.”
A prime example is Loyola’s Women’s Leadership Academy. The program brings together women at the top of their professions, such as CEOs, judges and surgeons, for networking, problem-solving and sharing of experiences.
Loyola is also addressing the healthcare staffing situation, again in partnership with Ochsner. This includes a new undergraduate nursing program; a new public health major; and a new master’s degree in healthcare administration.
Tetlow believes that these programs are especially appealing at Loyola because “in this field, you need equal parts ethics and empathy, which is in line with a Jesuit education.”
This philosophy guides the university’s approach to COVID-19: There is a vaccine requirement for all students, and according to Tetlow, the only reason there is no similar mandate for faculty and staff is because they are already vaccinated at a high rate.
Overall, Tetlow hopes that “this will be a far more normal semester. Loyola has been gaining real momentum, and we are glad the pandemic didn’t slow it down.”
Nunez Community College
In St. Bernard Parish, Nunez Community College is another institution working closely to understand the needs of area businesses and develop programs in response – and subsequently, the school is literally shooting for the moon.
Nunez is providing a wide variety of programs for the fall semester. A cloud computing program offers both a professional certificate and associate’s degree. The same is true for an expanded air conditioning and digital refrigeration program. With construction increasing in the parish, carpentry is back on the schedule. Digital media is another new focus area.
A broader partnership is behind the new mechatronics program. According to Jason Browne, director of communications, “Mechatronics is a blend of electronics, robotics, mechanics, and related technologies.” Nunez is joining with Northshore Technical Community College as well as local employers Laitram, Elmer’s Chocolates and Zatarain’s to deliver the program.
This creates added opportunities for the students. “Students work as apprentices at these companies while they are taking the courses,” Browne explained, “and if they make it through, they are guaranteed a job at the end.”
Another partnership has Nunez operating on the University of New Orleans lakefront campus, providing classes for students who have become temporarily ineligible at UNO. “Students keep their IDs, live in the dorms, but take Nunez courses,” Browne said. “They can do everything as full-fledged UNO students while they get their academics in order.”
Perhaps the most exciting development is Nunez’s Aerospace Manufacturing facility, home to the school’s Manufacturing Technology program. With its proximity to NASA facilities, including an aerospace concentration is a natural, and Browne reported that Nunez graduates are currently working on the space launch system for NASA’s Artemis moon mission.
When most people think of Tulane University, the stately campus uptown comes to mind. In fact, according to President Dr. Michael Fitts, “Our future is on the downtown campus. We have 17 buildings downtown, and we are bringing them together into a truly integrated campus.”
Fitts indicated that this is where Tulane’s future research expansion will occur, as well as related start-up business activity. Included in the planning is occupying a significant portion of the old Charity Hospital. More immediately, the university is opening a new residence hall in the middle of the Bioinnovation District.
The downtown facilities house the Schools of Medicine, Public Health and Tropical Medicine, and Social Work. Grouping these together encourages collaboration, and Tulane is introducing several new ones. “Personalized health and gender differences in health care will be new research areas,” said Fitts. “We will also investigate emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, including looking at the long-term effects of COVID. The pandemic has really underscored the importance of research.”
Back on the Uptown campus, Tulane is building a new residential community, an innovative approach to college life and learning. The facility will include 700 residences, for both students and faculty, along with classrooms and labs. “This will transform the undergraduate experience,” Fitts stated.
The university is also focused on providing area students with access to quality higher education, introducing its new Louisiana Promise this fall. “Louisiana students from families with incomes under $100,000 can come to Tulane with no loans,” Fitts explained.
A complimentary program offers 50 scholastic residency scholarships for Louisiana high school students over the summer. Tulane also offers college counseling advice to New Orleans area students.
Tulane was one of the first local institutions to impose a vaccine requirement. As a result, Fitts said, 95% of students are vaccinated, along with more than 90% of faculty and staff. While Fitts remains concerned about the impacts of COVID-19, he noted that “Tulane came out of last year as a stronger institution. We stayed on track and even accelerated our initiatives.”
University of Holy Cross
Nestled in its serene Westbank location, the University of Holy Cross may be the best-kept secret among local higher education options. Yet even this quiet campus is home to exciting new growth.
Holy Cross was a commuter college for almost a century, until opening a residence hall in 2018. Subsequently, the university opened its new Health Science building in January 2020 – just in time for the pandemic. With its 40-plus year-old nursing program, Holy Cross is another important contributor to easing the healthcare staffing crisis. This is further augmented by new online options for programs such as master’s degrees in science and counseling, and a PhD in counseling.
“The healthcare industry is in dire straits,” observed Holy Cross President Stanton McNeely. “We are extending our reach and adding new partnerships across key sectors to address this.”
Examples include offering dual high school and college enrollment to students from Baton Rouge to the Gulf Coast, enabling participants to accelerate their college track. Nursing students join clinical rotations at local hospitals. A new partnership with Delgado enables students studying Respiratory Care Technology to transfer their credits to Holy Cross, again expediting progress toward graduation.
Another initiative is an accelerated business degree program. Like the other programs, innovations include more online course options and the opportunity to get course credit for prior learning and work experiences. Students may also test out of certain classes.
Holy Cross is also part of the tuition freeze movement, which McNeely believes contributed to a 10% enrollment increase over the summer. He also placed it in the larger context. “As we’re going through COVID, it’s very important to keep tuition affordable,” he stated. “We continue to provide access and opportunity for students.”
University of New Orleans
As with the other campuses, innovations abound at the University of New Orleans – but only UNO has built a new e-sports arena and launched an e-sports team. The team will compete across the country, but as Chancellor Dr. John Nicklow wryly observed, “Travel costs will be lower than for our other sports teams.”
On a more scholarly note, the newly reimagined UNO Research and Technology Park is expanding its partnerships in the private, public and nonprofit sectors. Rebranded this summer as The Beach, it is also increasing student internships and related opportunities.
Collaboration with the business community is paramount at UNO. “Traditionally, higher education institutions have been in their own world,” Nicklow said. “The better we respond to businesses, listen to and address their needs, the more they will hire our graduates.”
Examples of this include the Innovation Academy, which offers education and apprenticeships in high-growth fields. A new Urban Construction Management degree was developed in direct response to business needs. The recently dedicated Boysie Bollinger building for the School of Naval Architecture and Engineering houses the only such program in the region.
In a different arena, UNO is now offering a PhD in Justice. “This can be social, criminal, environmental, education,” said Nicklow. “Students can take it in any direction they choose, with faculty guidance and mentorship.”
The university also has a strong commitment to accessibility for area students. “The Privateer Pledge is our promise to fill the unmet needs of students in Orleans Parish, and we are expanding to Jefferson Parish this fall,” Nicklow said. “For families earning under $60,000, we are ensuring those students have access to a college education and a career.”
In a crisis, playing to one’s strengths is a wise approach. Xavier University is not just the leading HBCU in the pre-medical and pharmaceutical fields, but one of the best in the country overall. As one example, last year it doubled the number of physician assistants it graduated. Not only does this meet yet another need in the health care sector, “It adds significantly to diversity in the field,” said Xavier President Dr. Reynold Verret. “And as we have learned during the pandemic, representation equals trust.”
Xavier also expanded its speech pathology program, along with other key allied health programs. However, the university views this field through a different lens than many. “Public health is a population science,” explained Verret. “We have to look at health disparities in different population groups.”
To this end, Xavier has partnered with Ochsner to establish the Health Equity Institute. “Our goal is to move Louisiana from 49th to 40th place nationally in health outcomes,” Verret said. “This may not seem like a lot, but it will make a great difference in many people’s lives.”
Equity is also the objective of the new Victory Capital Scholars Program. The program, sponsored by Victory Capital Holdings, includes scholarships for students pursuing careers in the investment management field, and even funding to launch an investment club at Xavier.
Other new offerings on campus range from a program in African Diaspora Culture Studies to launching varsity baseball and softball teams. Verret credited legendary baseball slugger Hank Aaron with nudging the university to add these teams to its sports calendar.
Verret has guided the university through a cautious approach to the pandemic. Vaccines are required for students, faculty and staff, which has kept infection rates low and will hopefully allow for a more normal fall. “The coming year will still require some flexibility,” Verret observed, “but our community tradition of service will carry us through.”