Dr. Joe Ben Welch, Chancellor of River Parishes Community College, was honored recently at the 40th anniversary celebration of the Lamar State College Campus in Orange, Texas, where his leadership from 1970-1990 took the school from an extension center to a SACS accredited two-year community college.
This honor comes as no surprise to RPCC staff and faculty, as his guidance in 10 years at River Parishes Community College began at a school with no classrooms and has led RPCC to become a SACS accredited two-year college. This fall, the College had the highest percentage increase (38%) in enrollment of any higher education institution—both public and private—in Louisiana.
“There are many similarities between the origins of LSC-Orange and River Parishes Community College,” Dr. Welch stated. In 1971, the LU-Orange Extension Center, now Lamar State College-Orange, didn’t have a permanent home until May 2001. RPCC opened in August 1999 with no permanent facilities. According to Dr. Bill Martin, who was only 1 of 3 staff at RPCC during that time, English classes were held at the Louisiana Technical College-Ascension Campus, math classes at St. Anne Catholic Church in Sorrento, and all other classes at the Sorrento Fire Department. The current location in Sorrento wasn’t available until Spring 2000.
LSC-O’s initial student enrollment was approximately 365 and in 40 years has grown to 2217. RPCC enrolled 100 students in August 1999 and in 10 years boasts a student enrollment of 1817. RPCC’s steady growth is cause for Drs. Martin and Welch to once again consider a location for RPCC that will adequately house current and future students and resources.
When asked why he came back to Louisiana to tackle the task of building another new school, Dr. Welch replied, “I’m originally from Zachary, Louisiana, and it was a chance to come home. Besides,” he smiles, “RPCC was a challenge and one worth taking on.” Dr. Bill Martin echoes this sentiment stating, “Building RPCC was an opportunity to start a school from scratch and allowed us to produce quality work from the beginning.”
River Parishes Community College is fortunate to have Welch as a stalwart supporter since its inception. He has served 40 years as a Chancellor, when only 1% of all Community College CEOs serve 30 years or more, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. He has worked at one of the newest community colleges in Texas while at LSC-O, moved to one of the oldest at Middle Georgia College and has come full circle with RPCC. When asked how long he thinks he’ll continue serving at RPCC, Welch replied, “I enjoy what I’m doing. As long as I am in good health and can make a contribution, I’ll continue to do so.”