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After Nearly $40 Million in Damages from Deadly and Destructive Hurricane Laura, SOWELA Close to Completing Repairs and Seeing Major Enrollment Increases in Workforce Programs

Friday Marks the One-Year Anniversary of Hurricane Laura Barreling into Southwest Louisiana

(Lake Charles, Louisiana – August 23, 2021)

On August 27, 2020, Hurricane Laura decimated the Lake Charles area damaging all 13 of SOWELA’s Lake Charles campus buildings resulting in nearly $40 million in damages. Right away, work feverishly began on all 13 buildings with moderate to major roof and structural damage from Hurricane Laura, the worst storm to hit the Louisiana coast in more than 150 years. And just one year later, SOWELA has 10 of its buildings back online and will have nearly all buildings repaired for its nearly 3,000 students by the end of October.

Laura, a Category 4 storm, devastated large swaths of Lake Charles, killing at least 28 people and bringing severe flooding to the city of 80,000. Gov. John Bel Edwards said the hurricane was the most powerful the state has ever seen, worse than Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Laura brought 150 mph winds and a storm surge up to 15 feet; 580,000 people were forced to evacuate. It hit southwest Louisiana, where Lake Charles sits in Calcasieu Parish, the hardest. Hurricane Laura’s devastating sweep through southwest Louisiana last year displaced as many as 7,000 families.

SOWELA students from across the area were severely impacted by the storm, yet enrollment has remained strong as the college has 2,875 currently registered for its Fall 2021 semester. Despite the challenges of recovery from Hurricane Laura, SOWELA achieved the highest retention rate among all community and technical colleges in Louisiana from 2020 to 2021. Several of SOWELA’s programs have seen double-digits increases in their enrollment percentages including:

  • Industrial Electrical Technology – 41.6% increase over Fall 2020
  • Machine Tool Technology – 150% increase over Fall 2020
  • Digital Arts and Communications – 120% increase over Fall 2020

Officials attribute the growth in most programs to the need for skilled laborers during the rebuilding and recovery process in Southwest Louisiana. SOWELA has a history of 80 years of educating and training manual laborers, technical workers and other industry-specific employees to immediately go forth into Louisiana’s workforce. Despite the challenges of rebuilding from Hurricane Laura, the college is still committed to providing such integral training and rigorous education.

“Hurricane Laura was devastating to the Southwest Louisiana region causing immeasurable damage and the tragic loss of human life in our community, but our institution, faculty, staff and students have been incredibly resilient in the face of the adversity of a record-setting storm followed by a global pandemic,” said SOWELA Chancellor Dr. Neil Aspinwall. “The entire SOWELA family has banded together to reopen buildings, provide students with the necessary technology to continue their education even with utilities down for weeks, implement new training programs to educate students to fill vital jobs and help return the Lake Charles community to a sense of normalcy. I could not be prouder to lead SOWELA as I’ve seen thousands of SOWELA’s students and faculty go above and beyond to live up to SOWELA’s mission.”

Outside of its Lake Charles campus, SOWELA recently acquired Lamar Salter in Leesville and also has additional campuses in Jennings and Oakdale.

SOWELA was named WalletHub’s (opens new window) #1 community college in Louisiana in 2021 for the third straight year. The college is also ranked #27 overall in the entire U.S. out of all 698 community colleges in the rankings.

The college is planning to host its first fundraiser since Hurricane Laura with its annual Flying Tigers Car Show on Saturday, September 18. All proceeds from the outdoor event will benefit student scholarships and enhancements. More information about the fundraiser is available on our Car Show page.

SOWELA offers more than 30 technical and academic programs, including Aviation Maintenance Technology, Industrial Electrical Technology, Welding, Vehicle Maintenance Technology, Forest Technology, Sterile Processing and Practical Nursing (LPN).

For more information about any of SOWELA’s programs or to apply online, visit this page. Anyone needing additional assistance can contact onestop@sowela.edu for more information.

About SOWELA Technical Community College

SOWELA Technical Community College provides traditional, online, and lifelong learning experiences and awards associate degrees, technical diplomas, and certificates. The College empowers learners in career and technical education and enables transfer students to pursue a four-year degree, so all learners excel as globally competitive citizens. The College has been educating the region’s workforce for 80 years and has locations in Jennings, Lake Charles and Oakdale, Louisiana.