Degree alternatives: Two-year opportunities abound at Sowela Tech

Published 10:48 am Wednesday, October 6, 2021

College is a wonderful thing, but a four-year college degree may not be for everyone. It doesn’t necessarily guarantee a certain wage. No degree or training of any kind guarantees success in the workplace, advancement or employment of any kind. Some employers require a bachelor’s degree. Others just want to know the applicant has the skills to do the work for the same pay. A two-year associate’s degree might be, at the very least, a good starting point for a particular job, career path or preferred learning environment before transferring to a four-year university.

For the last two weeks, the American Press has offered potential job seekers, and parents of graduating seniors, information about alternatives to the four-year degree, such as on-the-job training and online certifications through Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) and Grow with Google. This week Dr. Marie Coleman and Alena Savoie answered questions about the two-year opportunities in the Sowela Technical Community College School of Business and Applied Sciences. Coleman is the school dean. Savoie completed the accounting technology degree two years ago and was hired the day after graduation. Starting pay was $16 an hour and she has received a raise since that time.

“Part of the interview was to take a test that would be graded by a CPA with the firm,” Savoie said.

The same test would have to be taken by someone with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, which is, historically, the degree required to fill this role.

Not every student has the commitment of Savoie. The 32-year-old mother of twins went to school during the day and worked full-time at night. Plus, English is not her first language.

At community colleges across the U.S., students are able to learn about their area of concentration right away, rather than meeting requirements for a certain number of courses before they are able to take those classes.

Two-year degrees are offered at Sowela in various programs. In the School of Applied Sciences and Technology, those programs are accounting technology in business administration, drafting and design technology, digital arts and communication, information systems technology, office systems technology and culinary arts.

Course work in the business administration program is completely transferable to McNeese State University and LSU Alexandria, according to Coleman.

Graduates of these programs go on to fill jobs with titles such as accountants, auditors, management analyst, drafters, surveyors, graphic designers, multimedia artists, animators, computer systems analysts, Information Security Analysts, Administrative Services Manager, Executive Administration Assistants, Head Cook and Chef.

Sowela uses the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) to determine the demand, title and starting pay for jobs. The LWC Star Jobs Rating System provides a ranking of the highest demand, highest wage jobs in Louisiana, based on forecasted employment growth, currently available jobs and compensation levels, among other factors. For example, accounting is rated a 5-star job. Go to opportunitylouisiana.com to find out more.

“All of the different types of degree programs have their place,” Coleman said.

For her, an Associate’s Degree was a starting point. She has two Bachelor’s Degrees, a Masters, a Doctorate and she is currently enrolled in post graduate work.

She also said that for the business administration program, course work is fully transferable to McNeese State University and LSU Alexandria.

Community colleges prepare students to enter the workforce and to transfer credits to four-year universities.

As part of the curriculum, students receive certification in Microsoft Office, QuickBooks, Adobe Software Suite, depending on their area of study, and at no extra charge.

Coleman said such certifications look good on a resume and can put one job candidate ahead of another. But some coursework needs to be in the classroom. For instance, students in information systems technology are assigned hands-on projects, get experience with troubleshooting, are supervised for programming assignments and work with computer hardware and operating systems.

Students may choose a two-year associate’s degree to begin to earn a wage a soon as possible. Tuition and fees at Sowela are approximately $2,100 depending on the number of credits/courses. This does not include books, supplies and other materials that vary by program.

“We do have financial aid and scholarships,” said Darlene Hoffpauir, Marketing and Communications Manager.

Sowela does not participate in the student loan program. However, Hoffpauir described the Foundation as “healthy.”

As for finding a job once a student graduates, Coleman said she is contacted by industry every week about job openings. She maintains a spreadsheet.

“Right now, we have more opportunities than we can fill,” she said.

An industry advisory board provides feedback about curriculum, new programs in demand and skills needed to perform jobs in their companies.