The Sky is Falling (Again) – 2016 Louisiana Higher Education Edition

Due to Louisiana higher education’s Crisis du Jour, which theoretically could have been avoided but we knew was all but unavoidable effective the end of Bobby Jindal’s term as Magician-in-Chief, I spent most of the day today alternating between dispiritedness and outright despair.

It’s not because I am afraid for myself but for our state. I could care less if I am furloughed or not but I do care about the impact on everyone else in higher education – faculty, staff and students. Governor John Bel Edwards says he doesn’t want to cut higher education, but due to our state constitution and our priorities as a state it doesn’t matter if he means it or not–we have few other options. We are in this mess because Louisiana has proven that it does not value higher education. We say we do, but if we really valued it, it would not be the only part of the state budget that is completely vulnerable to mid-year cuts. We are completely and totally discretionary.

Even health care gained some constitutional protections in 2014. Higher education has NONE.

So while some bitch and moan about how out of control TOPS has gotten (which got out of control simply because tuition is now paying for what state appropriations used to), or opines once again that we have too many universities (something which has been soundly refuted, by the way) remember that the approximately $1 billion higher education costs our state ($750 million in appropriations + $250 million in TOPS) is less than 5% of our entire $25 billion state budget.

We in higher education are not the problem.

But constitutionally, we are the only solution, year after year after year.

And the budgetary hole we are now in is TWICE what higher education costs the state a year.

We need to address the Untouchable parts of the budget.

Everything needs to be on the table.

And we need more revenue. Simple as that. Bitch and moan too about taxes, but we just saw the biggest tax giveaway in our state’s history and what did it get us?

We’re still poor.

Our state’s economy lags behind the rest of the nation, and did before oil collapsed.

And the thing that was supposed to guard our state, particularly higher education and health care, from the vagarities of the oil market–Stelly–is long gone, along with the surpluses that went with it.

If we value higher education, we need to sustain it and protect it.

If we don’t, then why care if LSU has to cancel hundreds of classes and lay off hundreds of people?

Or if the thousands of people Sen. Jack Donahue was afraid would be walking the streets unemployed in July of last year start walking the streets unemployed in February of this year instead.

This is getting old, folks.


4 thoughts on “The Sky is Falling (Again) – 2016 Louisiana Higher Education Edition

  1. I think you mean that you could not care less.

    You say that it has been “soundly refuted” that the state has too many universities. Could you please provide the citation or link for that study? Every study of which I am aware, from the Tucker Commission on down, has supported that contention. I’ve seen plenty of opinions, but opinions are not refutations.

    Louisiana has too universities and too many four-year colleges for its population. Most of the so-called “universities” of 5,000 students should become four-year colleges; many of the four-year colleges should become two-year community colleges. In some communities, the state-funded institutions should merge into a single four-year school with a strong vocational education program. My undergraduate degree came from just such an institution in another state — a four year state college that also offered associates degrees in nursing, electronics, dental hygiene, and auto mechanics, as I recall. I later earned a masters and a ph.d., so there is no faulting the education I received there.


    • First, I would be reticent to consider the Tucker Commission a “study” because the governor and legislature charged it to look at how higher education could be reorganized and made more “efficient” in the face of budget cuts.

      Dr. Kurt Corbello did an excellent analysis on his blog. The contention that Louisiana has too many higher education institutions is based on a faulty count of colleges and universities in other states (Florida in particular). You may consider that opinion but he provides a lot of data and evidence in support of his position.

      I do think that we have too many system boards. There has been a lot of resistance toward consolidating them and making the Board of Regents a “superboard” over all our institutions. My experience having worked in 3 of the 4 systems is that there isn’t a whole lot that they contribute that couldn’t be done more efficiently, professionally and fairly by the Board of Regents staff.

      There is a whole backstory why our four-year colleges turned universities no longer offer associates degrees (with a very few exceptions) or vocational education, mostly having to do with the long standing higher ed segregation lawsuit and the Desegregation Agreement of 1994. But this was done intentionally–in fact, our community and technical college system was a product of this lawsuit and settlement.

      But higher education has been cut so much that even if we merge and close institutions, it’s really not going to make a huge impact on our overall budget situation. State funding for higher education is currently around $1 billion and the entire state budget is $25 billion. Completely defunding higher education and cancelling TOPS only accounts for half the projected FY16-17 deficit. Until we are willing to look at the billions in statutorily protected portions of our budget or the fact that we are now giving more away to corporations than we are taking in, then higher education is a convenient scapegoat, not the cause of (or solution to) the problem we are currently in.


      • It’s easy to make your case when you simply disregard anything that you don’t want to hear. It’s also easy to make your case when you persistently misquote and distort what has been said. I read Corbello. He does not distinguish among the types of institutions of higher education in order to make his case; in other words, he lies with statistics.

        Once again, no one said “too many institutions of higher education.” They said, “too many universities.” All institutions of higher education are not universities. Institutions of higher education include vocational colleges, community colleges/junior colleges, four-year colleges, teaching universities, and research universities. Louisiana has far too many “universities” for its population.

        Other states have a three-tier system of higher education which includes community colleges which lead into four-year colleges which lead into universities. Louisiana has four systems which include a bizarre mix of all three. LSU-Alexandria and LSU-Eunice are, at best, four-year colleges. They are not by any stretch of the imagination “universities” and most certainly not research universities. They should be part of a four-year college system, along with most of the UL system, except for Lafayette. The only public research universities in Louisiana should be in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Shreveport.

        Explain to me why Lake Charles has both McNeese and a community college, why Alexandria has both LSU-Alexandria and a community college, why Monroe has both ULMonroe and a community college, why there is a community college a stone’s throw from Nicholls? In every case, these could be merged into a single, four-year school that included vocational education, and awarded associates and bachelors degrees.

        I’m not asking for some historical justification — I’m asking for the economic justification. Are there enough people in those communities to support two schools?

        Can you respond to that?


      • Suzanne, I haven’t had much time to be able to respond in detail to your comment, but similar possibilities were studied particularly when Jindal and the legislature proposed merging UNO/SUNO and bringing them into closer alignment with Delgado. The NCHEMS examined but did not recommend either the merger that the state wanted, or the type of single governance you support. While there were plenty of things they did recommend that they believed would help student learning outcomes, nothing they recommended would actually save money. In fact, they recommended maintaining each institution as a separately governed and accredited entity (rather than making them branch campuses or off-campus instructional sites of a single accredited institution). Jindal and the legislature went ahead anyway with their original plan to try and simply merge UNO/SUNO and it failed miserably.

        The company that studied LSUS’ proposed merger with LaTech instead agreed that this merger was a good idea (or at least that was among their recommendations)… that didn’t happen either… but that was also between two institutions with more similar demographics and missions. They suggested a closer collaboration with area community colleges but not a merger.

        There have been several mergers between the old LTCs and our community colleges and while they haven’t been without their challenges and struggles, in theory I believe they needed to happen. I agree with you also that LSUE, LSUA and LSUS in practice rather than by name are really LSU colleges (LSUE is a 2-year junior college and the other two 4-year) and are vestiges of the old segregated system. LSUA is actually doing quite well both in terms of enrollment and retention but the other two are struggling.

        I don’t support the status quo, actually. I think that there are plenty of things we can do to improve higher ed in our state, and that may include reorganization or establishing more multi-campus colleges and universities. I agree that our board structure is bizarre. However, while we can spend money more wisely, I don’t know as if we can cut any more overall and if anything we have underinvested in higher education. Mergers just for the sake of saving money will not help student learning outcomes IMO. And time and again that is what has been on the table. Also, several parishes in our state (including in central and southwest Louisiana) have been labeled “education deserts” according to a new study and closing campuses would possibly make the situation worse. Geography is important especially in a poor state like ours.

        My contention is that we cannot cut our way into higher education success, and that if mergers do happen, they happen because they are the best thing to do for our state and for our students… not as a cost saving measure alone.

        Can we consolidate universities? Perhaps. I will concede that because really I don’t believe we have too many university campuses. But do we have too many public higher education institutions/campuses? No. Or can we merge universities with completely different missions? As NCHEMS found, no. In fact, while we are graduating more students from high school with core, that hasn’t translated into more Louisiana students going to our colleges and universities–we have negatively impacted higher ed access. And do I think we can further cut higher ed expenditures if we reorganize? At this point, I don’t believe we can because of how much we have disinvested so far.


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