Students at Lamar Institute of Technology will continue to operate from a distance with alternative learning methods until the end of the semester, and the school is hiring two new officials to help oversee the format.
“With over 8,100 students annually, LIT has a social responsibility to help protect the health, safety and vitality of this community amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,” LIT President Lonnie Howard said in a letter to students.
Since the college is considered a state agency, it does not fall under the City of Beaumont or Jefferson County’s stay-at-home orders, Howard said. But they still plan working to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“In accordance with the mayor and judge’s requests, starting (Tuesday) until the county ends its order on April 10, we will scale back the time the college is physically opened Monday through Friday,” he said.
The new hours will be 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and 8 a.m. to noon Fridays.
Support services will be moved online, with essential staff returning April 13.
In a letter to parents and students, Howard explained his decision not to shutter the college completely, noting the importance of operations to the community.
“We are balancing every decision against the reality that thousands of our students are on federal financial aid, in labs such as welding that are not online-friendly, must meet regional accreditation standards, need to graduate this semester and have to get jobs,” Howard said, adding that the area is dependent on graduates to help sustain the economic vitality of Southeast Texas.
“Simply stated, the college by definition is essential,” he said.
Howard said labs and offices are continuously cleaned, students and staff are practicing social distancing and no one will gather in groups of ten or more.
The school is in the process of on-boarding a faculty lead and an associate dean to help lead online efforts, school spokesperson Chris Elliot told The Enterprise.
“With a 46% increase in credit enrollment over the last three years, our faculty have been working extremely hard to meet this demand. But with the introduction of the COVID-19 virus it is even more important that we empower our faculty with new and innovative leadership opportunities so that they can become champions for our students, and better assist our faculty to work remotely using alternative learning strategies,” he said.
David Mosley, vice president for strategic initiatives, told The Enterprise in October that the 2017 creation of an Associate of Arts program that allows students to complete general students and transfer to four-year institutions resulted in a 34% enrollment jump to 308 students. It is now the second-largest program at the school.
Mosley said other top programs such as petrochemical instrumentation training, radiologic technology and dental hygiene have continued to grow due to local workforce demands.
“In particular, the petrochemical community focused on what it is calling the ‘great crew change’ as baby boomers retire,” Mosley said. “As those more experienced workers leave the industry, we are trying to increase the pool of skilled workers by offering hands-on programs and by creating multiple pipelines for students to get connected to employers.”
While the popularity of career programs like process operations at petrochemical plants has remained popular at LIT, a tuition reduction and shift in labor trends has meant the program is seeing a variety of students.
As for the continued distance learning, Howard said he is “very appreciative for Provost Kerry Mix for developing this unique system to take LIT’s customer service and work environment to an even higher level.”
The associate dean position will be responsible for ramping “up our endeavors in virtual advising and remote TSIA testing.”
According to the Texas Education Agency, The Texas Success Initiative Assessment is part of the Texas Success Initiative enacted by the Texas State Legislature and designed to determine a student’s readiness for college-level coursework in the general areas of reading, writing, and mathematics.
“This is someone who has a wealth of knowledge, and who will greatly benefit the students as well as faculty when it comes to professional development,” Elliot said.
While details on who would be hired for the positions were not available Friday, an announcement is expected in the coming days.
Jacob Dick contributed to this report.