Dr. Natalie Harder has dedicated her professional career to making education available to everyone. Whether you have achieved a third grade education or a doctorate in philosophy, the open access policy at South Louisiana Community College (“SLCC”) provides the opportunity to pursue the education you desire at an affordable price.
Adult education is now a key focus for SLCC. Harder believes that the low educational attainment rate in Louisiana is holding our state back. Backed by statistics showing that low socioeconomic indicators and poor quality of life are directly related to a lack of education, Harder is determined to change this dynamic.
Dr. Harder assumed the post of Chancellor of SLCC in February 2012. The first in her family to attend college, Dr. Harder earned her doctorate in Community College Leadership from Old Dominion University in Norfolk VA.
Jokingly referring to the fact that she majored in economics in undergraduate school with no prospect for a job, Harder emphasized that certification for marketable skills is what many employers are looking for in candidates who can show up ready to work, not necessarily a four year diploma. And, in today’s world, some type of college/certification is necessary to keep up with rapidly changing workforce requirements.
During her first year of service, Dr. Harder oversaw the merger of SLCC and Acadiana Technical College. A second merger on July 1, 2018 with Young Memorial Campus of South Central Louisiana Technical College (SCLTC). now enables SLCC to serve a South Louisiana region totaling more than 6200 square miles from Houma to Ville Platte.
The average age of an SLCC student is 26 to 27. They are working while attending classes and typically not eligible for financial aid through programs such as PELL grants. Keeping costs down for the students is imperative, and Harder is a proponent of Open Educational Resources which offers online books and study materials the students can download at no cost. In the past year, this initiative has saved students $1.9 million in textbook expenses.
The #1 reason students don’t finish college is “life” according to Harder, and events such as a shortage of money, lack of transportation, and other roadblocks can short circuit the best laid plans. Harder still teaches a class each semester so that she can stay in touch with the students’ lives and challenges.
Sixty percent of SLCC students graduate without debt, and for those with debt, it is typically under $7,500.00.
The top jobs in the region that keep SLCC busy teaching relevant certification courses are commercial truck driving, nursing, healthcare related fields, accounting and IT/application software techs. These jobs may be obtained without piling on credits that are not directly related to the skills needed to have a successful career.
With a majority of adults in Louisiana lacking college degrees, Dr. Harder is a proud spokesperson for the “55 by 25” initiative with the goal to increase the proportion of working adults in Acadiana with postsecondary degrees, certificates, or other high-value credentials to 55% by 2025. Acadiana is the first region in Louisiana to back this initiative which was launched by One Acadiana and backed by other community partners such as SLCC, UL – Lafayette and business leaders.