Go inside the record enrollment for Lamar State College Orange and how it can last

Published 12:20 am Thursday, February 1, 2024

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More functional and result-driven curriculum is part of the reason local educators are championing record attendance at Lamar State College Orange.

The school’s unofficial (exact numbers before 2010 are not available) previous Spring enrollment record was 2,527 students in 2011.

The Spring enrollment in 2023 was 2,330 students.

This year it is standing at a robust 2,925 students.

The numbers are especially strong for the college coming off a record-breaking Fall of 2023 that saw Lamar State College Orange surpass 3,000 students for the first time.

President Dr. Tom Johnson, who said the campus focused on transfer style education when he arrived, credit collaboration with Provost and Executive Vice President Dr. Wendy Elmore for opening new avenues for first-time students while not hindering what was already working.

They spotlighted short term certificates achievable within a year as creating “exceeding value” in Orange County and across Southeast Texas.

“We’re getting statewide recognition for what we’re doing here in Downtown Orange,” Johnson said. “It’s amazing how people know our college now because of the incredible growth we are experiencing and have been for the past few years.”

Administrators point to Fall of 2023’s student enrollment, as well as degrees and certificates awarded as all-time highs.

As a largely commuter college that does not offer dormitories, the school generally draws from a tight radius of students, but is seeing boosts in students from East Texas and Southwest Louisiana, as well as participants in online-only classes that attract students from across the state.

Johnson called the college’s relationship with state legislators the best he has enjoyed in his career, because they are positively reinforcing the need for trades, crafts and skills in higher education.

“Over the past two legislative sessions, we were very fortunate,” he said. “While most universities asked for higher tuition, ours has been cut in half over the past two sessions. Reducing the tuition has been huge.”

Unique approach

Instead of using a 16-week model where students take four or more classes at a time, Lamar State College Orange uses two eight-week blocks within a four month semester, where most students take two classes at time, then break for a week and return for the second eight-week stretch to finish out the semester.

Elmore said the eight-week model is compressed, focused and comes to a conclusion in a time that generally eliminates student fatigue and, thus, the opportunity to drop out.

“You are not distracted by more subjects you have to study,” she said. “You also have an opportunity to do it pretty quickly.”

Elmore also points to the campus’ recently launched Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Educators program for bringing together industry partners to outline a skilled workforce.

There are four companies that are the main hub of the partnerships, with others getting ready to join.

They agree to commit money for scholarships to sponsor students. The students attend two days a week in the campus classroom, and then utilize three days a week at that company location, performing internship tasks.

It creates a continuous collaboration.

“All these companies have come together and come to a consensus on what are the skillsets that are needed,” Elmore said. “The students also learns time management, dependability and safety. There are soft skills that are also woven into this curriculum that they are reinforcing on the job.”

Now there are more companies wanting to join, with administrators looking to use the format for more technical programs.

“We have informal arraignments that are similar to that that are just starting to bubble up,” she said. “We’ve got a really strong partnership with several businesses with fabrication and welding. We actually have really revised what was formally welding because we have listened to these partners.”

The future

Johnson estimates three-fourths of Lamar State College Orange graduates are first generation college graduates.

“That means we are reaching people who would otherwise not have went to college,” he said. “They see us as making college mean what it needs to mean to them. That is learning a skill, craft or trade and going right to work. You can have a career and not a job. This is a great college that loves on its students and has small classes.”

Johnson said business management entrepreneurship instruction is part of the certificate process as the school doesn’t just want graduates leaving with the ability to weld or operate a chair in cosmetology studio. The education aims to provide a path to shop ownership.

“That is the way to a true American dream, owning your own business,” he said. “You need skills. When 75 percent of your students are first timers, they don’t know. So we are saying, ‘here is how you do it.’”

Lamar State College Orange is seeing momentum with its court reporting instruction, which is exclusively online.

Electromechanical technology education is also very popular with lot of students currently in dual credit courses, administrators said.