Nicholls petroleum program poised for future growth

07 04, 2015 by Houma Courier

Nicholls State University is preparing physical and personnel expansions to increase enrollment to offset shrinking revenues.

The Petroleum Engineering Technology and Safety Management program began expanding three classrooms last month in the recently vacated Gouaux Hall, which until recently housed the university's John Folse Culinary Institute.

And now, Nicholls President Bruce Murphy is considering increasing PETSM student fees under a new state law to add more teachers.

"This is a very high-demand program, but we've run out of room to grow," Murphy said.

The program experienced 50 percent growth in enrollment this fall, an increase of 153 students, bringing the total to 459 students. PETSM Director Michael Gautreaux said he expects the upward-trending enrollment to continue in the immediate future.

Expanding Gouaux Hall allows for the program to be able to handle that increased enrollment.

The $54,007 renovation is being paid for with a combination of Nicholls, industry and Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy dollars. Thibodaux-based contractor Thomassie Construction is handling the work.

The expanded classrooms will double capacity to 48 seats. Construction is expected to be complete before the fall semester.

"We've always had problems with waiting lists for high-demand courses and students can't get access to the classes they need. This will help mitigate and close those gaps," Gautreaux said.

The classroom will be equipped with state-of-the-art cameras and voice recorders so students working offshore can access the lectures they can't attend in person.

"It's not quite like being there, but it's a powerful instrument that they can rely on for continuing their education," Gautreaux said.

Murphy has highlighted the PETSM program as one of several that could increase enrollment as part of his strategic plan.

Murphy's plan is a survival guide, moving toward academic efficiency and growing enrollment in a state that hasn't made higher education a priority in several years.

Nicholls enrolled a little more than 6,300 students this spring and has a goal to increase that number to 8,000. However, early projections call for fall enrollment to decline for a third consecutive year.

However, a small staff is holding back the program.

"As important as the physical space is, the faculty size has been a limiting factor for us," Murphy said.

A small staff forces some classes to only be offered at limited times. If those don't match a student's schedule the person could be forced to wait a semester or as much as another year before being able to take classes necessary to graduate.

The program employs six full-time teachers and nine adjunct professors. Gautreaux said the program needs at least three more full-time instructors to even out class sizes and offer more classes.

"We had more than 450 students last semester with only six full-time faculty. That's a big student-to-faculty ratio," he said. "To meet the current demand and grow this program, we have to resource it and have to have more instructors."

To do that, Murphy is considering raising the program's fees.

"If we raised any fees, it would be for a particular reason with a particular plan in mind," Murphy said.

Additional faculty would also allow the program to offer alternative concentrations, Gautreaux said, including an environmental and other management focuses. The university has also discussed creating a master's degree within the program.

"To do that you need the resources to serve the need. We can't do that with the staffing levels we currently have," he said.

Senior Staff Writer Jacob Batte can be reached at 448-7635 or Follow him on Twitter @ja_batte.