Secures $37.4 million from state legislature
By Emily Banks Wooten
Hard work and perseverance definitely pay off. Just ask Dr. Thomas A. Johnson, a 1981 graduate of Livingston High School. Having just started his fourth year as president of Lamar State College Orange (LSCO), Johnson learned recently that his efforts and testimony before the Texas Senate’s Finance Committee in February paid off. LSCO will receive $37,435,695 to construct a new academic building on its campus in Orange. The legislation was passed in the last couple hours of the third special session, he said.
Johnson testified before a full Texas Senate finance committee in February of this year, requesting funds to develop an industrial technology academy, make hurricane-related repairs and improvements on campus and also asking for a $40 million tuition revenue bond to build a new state-of-the-art academic building.
Before testifying before the finance committee, Johnson met with Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, Orange’s state representative, to highlight the success that LSCO has achieved over the past two years, as well as where the college is headed in the next biennium.
Once in front of the finance committee, Chancellor Dr. Brian McCall led the Texas State University System delegation, where each president laid out their vision for the next two years. Johnson testified to the resilience of LCSO’s students, faculty and staff, enduring, in little more than a 12-month period, the aftermath of Tropical Storm Imelda, the pandemic, then Hurricanes Laura and Delta in a six-week period, followed by a week-long winter ice storm.
Johnson highlighted LSCO’s financial requests of the legislature, which included $1.5 million to building an industrial technology academy which would create a learning space for dual credit and other students to develop a trade or craft. He also requested funding to repair the academic building that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Laura. Additionally, he asked for $40 million via a tuition revenue bond to build a new state-of-the-art academic building. Finally, he asked for $1.5 million to purchase a natural gas generator to help the campus function during, and to recover more quickly after, future hurricane and tropical events.
“We went up significantly in our enrollment, and not only in just enrollment, we increased our transfer rate to four-year schools by economically disadvantaged kids, like me, by 25%,” Johnson said of the past two years, “and then a 13% increase in our degrees and certificates being awarded.”
Regarding the industrial technology academy, Johnson said, “What we’re asking for is to build an academy right there, so the school districts around us don’t have to worry about doing this. They can come to us to learn a trade or skill while they’re in high school. Dual credit is a wonderful thing for those wanting to go to university, but also, if we can channel it into learning a trade or a skill or a craft, that would be a wonderful thing.
“Other presidents were getting up there talking about how their buildings were built when Dolph Briscoe was governor. I told them mine was built in 1908 during the Roosevelt administration, and that’s Theodore, not Franklin,” Johnson said, remarking that his present academic building was a store house, a feed store and a bowling alley before LSCO got it about 50 years ago.
“We couldn’t be more grateful to Governor Abbott, our own state representative and Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, Senator Robert Nichols and the Texas Legislature for providing this much-needed infrastructure funding for our beautiful college on the Sabine,” Johnson said.
“This investment in higher education will help us continue to create a bright orange future for our students as we grow our campus. We thank these elected officials and the Texas State University System, particularly Chancellor Dr. Brian McCall and his staff, for believing in our vision of creating hope and opportunity for students in Orange and beyond,” Johnson said.
The funding represents the largest single capital investment that the Texas Legislature has granted LSCO. The building will house general academic instruction and information technology services.
LSCO boasts a student population from 26 Texas counties and eight different states. The makeup of the student body is 34% full-time students and 64% part-time students, with 46% in academic enrollment and 54% in technical enrollment. The student to faculty ratio is 19 to 1, with 74% of the classes having fewer than 20 students. Seventy-eight percent of the Spring 2021 graduates were first-generation college students.
Johnson is the son of Otis Johnson of Livingston and the late Margie Johnson.
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