Louisiana is well known for its spicy cuisine, festive lifestyle, unique geography and distinctive wildlife, all of which make the Pelican State one of the most historically diverse areas and iconic tourist destinations in the United States.
“Laissez les bons temps rouler” is a theme that is pervasive across the state and easily seen in Mardi Gras celebrations, jazz, and some of the best restaurants in the United States. Coastal waterways, swamps, bayous (a local word to describe a natural canal) and a plethora of outdoor activities have earned the state its other nickname of “Sportsman’s Paradise.” All of these unique characteristics lend themselves to a culture of hospitality and a high quality of life as well as to a great number of educational outlets that are specific to Louisiana with hands-on opportunities that do not—and cannot—exist elsewhere!
Educational opportunities are spread out among 36 distinctive 4-year universities and a total of 127 colleges, community colleges, and trade schools. These institutions run the gamut from major research engines to small, niche learning communities, from places of learning with historically significant foundations to modern powerhouses of innovation. Louisiana has a great deal to offer all across the state.
Louisiana’s distinctive history, having been part of both France and Spain prior to becoming part of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and statehood soon after (1812), is very long. This rich history and its cultural byproducts are particularly visible in the program offerings of universities such as Loyola University of Louisiana (New Orleans) and University of Louisiana at Lafayette. It should be of no surprise that a school with deep roots in New Orleans, the birthplace of Jazz, has a College of Music and Media with graduates including Harry Connick, Jr. Nestled in the historic and charming Audubon Park District in New Orleans, Loyola, a private university, embraces the Jesuit tradition that values holistic education. Dillard University, a historically black university also in New Orleans, is the home of the Institute of Jazz Culture, where students can study the intersectionality of jazz, community and education. Nothing compares to having Jazz Fest, which brings in thousands of people from around the world each spring, as a living classroom on culture.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette (commonly referred to as “ULL”), a public university, is also steeped in tradition, albeit Cajun. Located in the heart of “Cajun Country”, ULL is sometimes called “L’Université des Acadiens”. The Acadians, also called “Cajuns” for short, refer to the French Canadians who were expelled from Acadia (presently Nova Scotia) and exiled to the isolated, yet oil rich, bayous of southern Louisiana. The French language brought by the Acadians, as well as the French language that was already present from the French colonial days, remains a driving force behind ULL’s doctoral Francophone Studies Program, which also has undergraduate French, Cajun and Creole Studies, and French Education with an Immersion Concentration (teaching certification) opportunities. Local Cajun culture and language extend beyond the classroom, with Lafayette hosting the annual Festival International each spring, a week-long event that brings in francophone artists from around the globe, or the daily zydeco (local Cajun French music) radio shows and weekly fais do-do dances that keep the past alive and thriving.
Cajun and Creole culture are not just relegated to the world of language and are heavily identified by their uniquely delectable culinary traditions, which can be found across the state. Louisiana specialties tend to include a lot of spices, seafood, rice and usually a hint of cultural diffusion, with recipes reflecting the many peoples and histories that have impacted the state’s history, like okra from Africa or filé (ground Sassafras leaves) that Native Americans introduced. Jambalaya (known by locals as “dirty rice”), shrimp étouffée, beignets and chicory coffee, and crawfish, are important parts of the community. Crawfish boils are a signature springtime gathering for locals, who are always happy to include new friends and visitors. This rich culinary tradition as well as the significance of tourism in Louisiana lend themselves well to a variety of hospitality programs across the state. With New Orleans at the heart of tourism for the state, the undergraduate and graduate programs in Hospitality and Tourism at the University of New Orleans (UNO) abound with practical learning opportunities that are guided by the program’s advisory board of local leaders in the hotel and restaurant industry. UNO also offers a 2+2 transfer agreement with Delgado Community College, for students who want to start out with a culinary arts focus or prefer to start with community college before transferring to a 4-year program. On the western side of the state, SOWELA Technical College also offers a formidable Culinary Arts program, that has strong ties and internship opportunities with major local casinos, which draw heavily from the surrounding Houston area and are a sought after resort destination on the Gulf Coast. SOWELA is in the process of building a $10.2 million Culinary, Gaming and Hospitality Center on its campus in Lake Charles.
Situated on the Gulf of Mexico, which some locals affectionately call the “Third Coast”, Louisiana is at the heart of energy innovation in the United States. Natural gas, oil and now LNG (liquefied natural gas) are all major parts of Louisiana’s economy and, as such, are also important programs at many institutions across Louisiana. Many of the programs have slightly different foci that all tie into and support the mega industry that drives the state, not to mention the global economy. Several Engineering programs across the state have received national attention for their industry-focused outcomes and affordability including Louisiana Technical University’s (LA Tech) Nanosystems and Industrial Engineering programs. LA Tech, located in the northern part of the state, was the first university in the United States to offer an ABET accredited program in the field of Nanoengineering. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Petroleum Engineering program directly benefits from its proximity to the Lafayette Oil Center, which is a regional hub for global energy business, and, no doubt, has impacted the program’s strong job placement and research opportunities. In 2017, the ULL Petroleum Engineering program was ranked 13th in the world. Just down the I-10 corridor, towards Houston, and situated in the single fastest growing market in the United States last year, McNeese State University’s Engineering program has earned consistent accolades for its industry-focused Engineering program that prides itself on producing career-ready engineers who graduate with hands-on experience gained from their life-size labs that offer real-life learning opportunities. In fact, the labs are so valuable that local industry, including several multinational companies, uses the labs to train employees. McNeese’s undergraduate Engineering continues to be ranked in the top 10 for ROI (return on investment) nationally by PayScale.com.
Oil and gas are not the only major economic drivers in Louisiana, as agriculture, specifically lumber, rice, and sugar are also significant exports. Several universities offer programs that support this sector. The flagship university, located in the capital of Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University (LSU) has a long and reputable tradition for research in areas such as crop adaptability, alternative fuels, coastal restoration, and functional foods. The Pennington Biomedical Research Center at LSU is the largest academic research center in the world focusing on nutrition. LSU also boasts a well ranked School of Veterinary Medicine. While LSU offers the most comprehensive Agriculture and Animal Sciences research opportunities, at the bachelor’s level, undergraduate programs such those at McNeese State University offer a myriad of hands-on learning opportunities that are critical to success in this field. McNeese boasts three working farms and a meat processing plant that prepare students for work or post-graduate studies. McNeese’s nationally ranked rodeo team is an entertaining and long-standing tradition that illustrates the area’s strong connections with agriculture and farming.
This history of cultural diffusion, which, at times, has been one of struggle and cultural defense, has made universities across the state hubs for creative minds. Centenary College is the oldest chartered liberal arts school west of the Mississippi River. Founded in 1825, Centenary’s campus has a quaint, historical setting in northern Louisiana and is recognized by U.S. News and World Report rankings as Tier One Liberal Arts College. McNeese State University’s Creative Writing (M.F.A) program has not only enjoyed strong job placement for its graduates but has also recently produced a Pulitzer Prize and Newberry Medal winners among its graduates, not to be outdone by the three-time Grammy nominee, Mickey Smith, a saxophonist and graduate of McNeese’s Performing Arts program. The LSU Law Center also plays an important role in the preservation and cross-cultural study of civil law, which is practiced in Louisiana, unlike the common law practiced in the rest of the United States. The Paul Hebert LSU Law Center has a healthy network of exchanges that allow students and faculty a multitude of opportunities to study the political, cultural and social implications of civil law both in Louisiana and around the globe. Louisiana’s long French and Spanish colonial history made it an interesting depository of legal precedents and documents that are a treasure trove to academics.
Home to several major ports, Louisiana is no stranger to international business, with New Orleans having a historical position of importance in the world of international commerce. Its command of American import and export at the mouth of the Mississippi River is strikingly important. The University of New Orleans’ (UNO) School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering is the only such program in Louisiana and one of only a few in the U.S. and is uniquely situated near one of the most important American maritime ports. By definition, international business never operates in a silo and depends heavily on programs that support the technical and logistical sides of their operations. Cyber Security is a field of growing importance across the globe. UNO’s Computer Science Department’s concentration in Information Assurance has certifications from the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. McNeese’s Industrial Computer Science program, one of only a few in the world, is also a unique reflection of the university’s commitment to meeting the needs of industry, as every refinery needs trained experts to program and control the computer systems that ultimately run everything. While there are many notable business programs across the state, Tulane University’s A.B. Freeman School of Business is ranked among the best in the world by both the Financial Times and U.S. News and World Report, with a special emphasis on Finance and Entrepreneurship. Tulane’s Lepage Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation uses its significant resources including up to $50,000 in prize money and $200,000 in annual scholarships, to drive students to innovate in and out of the classroom. Notable alumni such as Yahoo co-founder, David Filo, and Netscape co-founder, Jim Clark, are not only significant donors but also living examples of Tulane’s spirit of entrepreneurship. Tulane has also set itself apart by being one of the only schools in the U.S. to have a public service graduation requirement
With an unparalleled ecosystem, albeit a fragile and often imperiled one, Louisiana offers a myriad of opportunities to study the science of the coastline, interior water systems and the diverse wildlife that live here as well as the challenges they face in the modern world. At McNeese State University, professor Mark Merchant’s research on the antibacterial properties of alligator blood is opening doors for a potential new class of antibiotics. His research and faculty-student projects have attracted attention from around the globe. No doubt, the university’s location offers unmatched biochemistry field experiences. Likewise, with the growing importance of coastal preservation, Nicholls State University and the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority are in the process of opening a Coastal Center that will allow the university and its students to play a first-hand role in restoration research, education and outreach. Nicholls’ Coastal Center also has a partnership with UNO’s Civil Engineering program, which allows students to work towards professional land surveying certification. The uniquely beautiful Atchafalaya River and surrounding basin, not far from Nicholls, have some of the highest rates of land loss in the North America, and offer a unique opportunity for students to learn first-hand and be part of an innovative and solution-driven program.
Louisiana’s unique cultural heritage, a mixture of Native American, African, French, Spanish and, more recently, Vietnamese is often described as a “gumbo”, a stew-like dish that blends lots of local ingredients into a tasty and beloved comfort food. Diversity is a hallmark characteristic of Louisiana’s historical and contemporary identity, and many programs have emerged as a result of efforts to address issues of equity. Tulane’s Newcomb College began as an effort to merge the then all-male Tulane with the all-female Newcomb College. Today, the Newcomb College Institute at Tulane provides a unique vehicle for promoting female leadership and research on topics of women’s issues in a diverse setting. Xavier University, a historically black Catholic university in New Orleans, played a significant role in providing early educational opportunities to African Americans and is still consistently considered the top producer of African American doctors and pharmacists. This year, UNO was named the most ethnically diverse college in Louisiana by College Factual. Throughout the state’s many campuses and programs, there is a common and increasingly visible belief that diversity of experience, opinion and worldviews makes the education richer and more relevant.
With a culture of festivals, the comfort of Southern hospitality, and a geography and history that are intimately tied to a unique tradition, it’s easy to lose sight of the educational opportunities that are only available in Louisiana. Take time to explore the individual programs offered across the state. Louisiana offers an educational destination that is at once uniquely creative and steeped in tradition while pointedly progressive, globally-minded and tied to industry-driven outcomes that are working to solve some of today’s most pressing issues. Louisiana remains one of the most affordable educational destinations in the United States, with many schools offering generous scholarships and non-resident fee waiver opportunities to qualified students. Like its history and the signature American river whose delta defines much of the state’s coast, tradition runs long and deep in Louisiana but so do the changing tides of business and industry, which universities in Louisiana are uniquely poised to address. As locals will say, “come pass un bon temps”, have a unique experience and get a great education at the same time!