I’m taking a break today from the history lesson because I’m furious. Or at least more so than usual.
Today the campus heads of both the University of New Orleans and Southern University at New Orleans predict that if anywhere close to the $380 million dollar higher education budget cut goes through, UNO will have to declare financial exigency and SUNO may be forced to close.
This isn’t just political posturing. They aren’t kidding.
This was at best predictable back in 2008 when Stelly was repealed, and especially in 2010 when GRAD Act was passed. Or at worst, planned. Orchestrated.
Stelly’s repeal meant that more of higher education’s funding had to come from student tuition.
So this means, enroll more students, right?
However, the GRAD Act linked admission criteria that were enacted at UNO in 2012, and at SUNO in 2014 ensured that most students in the New Orleans area would NOT meet those standards.
Let’s look at enrollment trends first.
According to the enrollment data reported in the Statewide Student Profile System of the Board of Regents, the year before Katrina (2004), UNO enrolled 2048 first time freshmen. SUNO enrolled 437 first time freshmen. Both healthy classes for both these institutions given their relative size. UNO had over 17,000 students before Katrina, which made it the largest four year state university that wasn’t LSU. Which would make sense because New Orleans is a major American city. Nothing against its next closest rivals in Lafayette and Hammond because they are both great college towns, but they aren’t in major American cities on the scale of New Orleans. Sorry.
In 2009 (the year before GRAD Act was passed), both institutions were still recovering from Katrina. UNO only enrolled 1010 first time freshmen, almost exactly half what it enrolled before Katrina. However, despite all the doomsayers, SUNO had rebounded to 413 first time freshmen that year.
New admission standards were enacted at SUNO in 2010 when it dropped to 355 new freshmen. This was the year it went from being an open to selective admissions university.
GRAD Act linked admission standards were enacted in 2012, when UNO could no longer enroll students needing developmental coursework. Its new freshman class dropped to 777. Regional institutions like SUNO that year required no more than one developmental class for admission, again due to GRAD Act linked standards. Its class dropped to 241.
The developmental education rate for UNO in 2004 was 34.6%. Its year to year freshman retention rate that year was 77.4%.
Its year to year retention rate for the incoming class of 2012 was… 77.2%!
What did the increase in standards do for UNO? It sure didn’t increase its retention rate, which is what was claimed when we were sold the bill of GRAD Act goods. It kept students out of UNO. That’s all.
SUNO, a public, urban HBCU which enrolls the most challenged population of any four-year university in the state (if not the nation), had a year to year retention rate in 2004 of 55.7%, while 87.4% of its first time freshmen were enrolled in developmental courses.
In 2013, its year to year retention went up to 61.6%, which means it traded a roughly 45% drop of freshman enrollment for a very modest jump in freshman retention. Again, the admission standards did an excellent job of keeping kids OUT of college, not in college.
In comparison, Delgado enrolled a smaller percentage of dev ed students in 2004 (85.7%) and had an only slightly higher freshman retention rate that year (58.1%) than SUNO.
In 2013, Delgado’s freshman retention rate was 59.2%, almost the same as SUNOs. Delgado is an open admission institution.
ACT scores do not fully predict success in college. High school GPAs do. ACT scores ARE linked to race and income. Like all multiple choice, standardized tests, it is biased.
In addition, the admissible market is no longer there for UNO and SUNO. It’s not that the students aren’t there and not that students don’t want to go. It’s that students in the New Orleans area (which is high poverty and majority African American, exposing the market to ACT bias) do not meet the new standards.
According to ACT data I use in my job, in the parishes that comprise Greater New Orleans (Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Charles, St. Bernard and St. John the Baptist), out of the Class of 2014, 3195 students and 610 African American students met the basic standards of a 2.0 GPA and zero developmentals (18 English/19 math ACT). In order to enroll students at pre-Katrina levels, these two institutions would collectively have to capture a whopping 78% of this market. Not gonna happen. Not when most of those students (75% of the 3195 total) don’t just meet SUNO’s standards or UNO’s standards, but LSU’s. Most of those students have options and there is a huge amount of competition in the New Orleans market for them. But the vast majority of New Orleans area graduates don’t meet those standards. Their options are private schools($), out-of-state schools or Delgado or Nunez. Oh, or the for-profit sector ($$$).
In Jindal’s world, tuition dollars equal state support, even though it is coming from the pockets of students and their families and not from state appropriations.
But if institutions are blocked from enrolling students in the first place, then they starve.
(Note: it would have been far, far worse in Fall 2014 if not for something called the “Developmental Education Pilot” which may… or may not… continue next year.)
Is this their punishment for not just rolling over and playing dead in 2011 when Jindal tried to merge them with Delgado? Of course, he knew the numbers. He knew this would happen and this was how he proposed that UNO and SUNO survive, by sacrificing themselves then.
(And that whole little deal would never have survived SACS. It would have cost much more money to merge due to the accreditation issues than to just fund them appropriately.)
If you starve an institution of both state appropriations AND students, this is what happens.
And before people go off and say why one or the other would close, or why they didn’t merge, imagine a major American city without a viable, major state institution. Like UNO was before Katrina.
Imagine New Orleans–NEW ORLEANS–without a public, AFFORDABLE HBCU.
I know this flies in the face of my earlier post… but as I said before, some of the things I wrote 13 years ago I wouldn’t today because of what I’ve learned about Louisiana, and the students who are here.
Yeah, the state could send all the black students to Delgado so they could hopefully, eventually transfer to UNO. But (1) Delgado is a two year school. Are we saying that black kids should all start at Delgado like the admission requirements indicate? And (2) some students want and need the smaller, more intimate, family environment of a four-year degree granting HBCU. And not exclusively black students, either.
We could actually have an honest, frank debate over whether SUNO or even UNO should stay open or not. Bob Mann has a valid point about the number of universities we have in our state even if I don’t 100% agree with him on this one anymore. But this isn’t the way to do it, folks. This is simply forcing the issue and making it seem like it was inevitable, which it wasn’t. Both SUNO and UNO had viable enrollments before Katrina. They didn’t even really compete with one another. They served different populations. Populations that were in New Orleans then and are back in New Orleans now. Katrina was just one cover for what’s happened since. But it wasn’t the cause, not by a long shot. I place this one squarely on Jindal’s desk.
In 2013, 78% of UNO’s new freshman enrollment and 91% of SUNO’s were from the Greater New Orleans area. SUNO by definition is a regional institution. It’s supposed to serve New Orleans.
Now they compete not with each other, but with LSU, for students they by and large did not traditionally enroll in the first place.
But according to Bobby Jindal, the University of Phoenix’s and Strayer Universities of this world are just fine and dandy alternatives. They only use federal dollars. Not precious state money. State money is for giving away to corporations, not for educating people who might actually work for them. Using his logic, state universities are for the elite. Use those big federal dollars in the for-profit education industry for everyone else. Because those are the only options that will be left for the vast majority of New Orleans students if we keep this up.