Happy First Birthday to LA Higher Ed Confessions

This past week (actually, on the date of my last blog post), marked one year since I started this blog.

And other than who is in the Governor’s Mansion, things haven’t changed a whole lot. My life has changed some, but not as much as I was concerned it might a year ago because I haven’t gotten fired or laid off (yet) and I’m still very much in the thick of the sometimes soap opera, but more often lately, tragedy that is Louisiana higher education.

In fact, what we saw last legislative session–the end result of the Jindal administration–I had originally thought would be happening now once he was gone.

But now is the real end game. We are playing a reverse Robin Hood with our state’s resources, robbing from the poor, indigent, sick and students and giving it to corporations. Ayn Rand would be proud not just because of that but because we’ve also killed what she called altruism but in an earlier time was called the common good (here’s a Randian definition calling common good bad if you’re interested). And Jindal is gone, away from the shrapnel, and it’s blasting in the face of our current governor. People are comparing him to Trump (really?) and calling Jay Dardenne–who in my opinion is making good in his position as Commissioner of Administration on a Twitter promise to be a “present governor” despite losing the election–to  a turncoat.

But we have no more tricks, no more one time money, a state rainy day fund that only has enough to rain a drop or two in the hole we’re in, and some of our institutions hammered over the last eight years left with little to no reserves either. Only the strongest may survive but that’s relative because the strongest is a starving tiger.

We bought some time in the last session but that’s all we bought. Time. Not a solution. We simply bought that time from now and now the debt is due with interest. The Board of Regents hasn’t posted official numbers yet but unofficially enrollment was up at many of our institutions this fall thanks to the change in our admission criteria (I’ve heard people complain since that this was simply a way to increase revenue but the real reason why I waged that battle against the old admission criteria is because it was a civil rights issue, not a revenue issue), but when you end up giving more back to the state than you receive, then all it means is that you are simply taking more from more students and bleeding it back to the state, which in turn is bleeding it back to corporations in the form of tax breaks and rebates.

And given that our state is in a recession, we can’t say that this strategy has worked. Ayn Rand was wrong and Bobby Jindal was wrong. The intent may have been to diversify our economy but really all it did was cheapen it.

And now we are on the verge of shutting down the majority of our colleges and universities, running off our so-called private “partners” in health care, and letting people die and rot. While health care has the most immediate impact on people’s lives, I strongly believe that higher education is a life and death proposition too especially in our poor state, and the data back me up–because the “school to prison pipeline” is real.

And this is close to an event horizon from which there will be no return. To the cheers of a state that loves them some Trump.

One of the nice things about being an anonymous blogger is that I can say these things truthfully without worrying about the impact on my institution or the people we serve. I know that campus presidents and administrators have to put on the happy face and say it will be ok, to reassure their students, faculty, and staff. Enough people I know well have understandably bailed either on this state or on higher education altogether–including some of my mentors, former supervisors, peers, and students I’ve recruited or mentored myself–that I understand why we need to encourage who’s left to stay. Sometimes it’s frustrating to hear but I understand the game as I’ve played it having spent most of my higher ed career in recruitment and enrollment management. But now that I’m kind of paid to be a pessimist–seek out and find the problems and worst case scenarios, and help my institution either get out of them or better yet, avoid them altogether, I don’t feel as much like I’m living a double life professionally. But it still hurts to be a prophet of sorts. I don’t like being right. And I remain anonymous because I need to be an insider as long as possible and report back what I see truthfully and often painfully. I see myself here as supporting all our higher education institutions, not just the school or system in which I work, because I do this for our students and our state as a whole who needs us all, from LSU down to the most remote college campus.

Yesterday afternoon,  a couple of people I work with stopped by my office telling me to get some rest this weekend because it’s about to get really crazy, really fast. Yeah, no $&*!.

But heck, at least my experience in higher education is that there really is no rest. This is a calling for me, not just a job or even a career. But I do need strength to keep going. Sometimes that comes from what little downtime I allow myself, but more often for me it comes from reflection, focus, and resolve. Reminders of why I do what I do.

Like from the student working as a cashier I met the other night, who was in tears, terrified of losing her TOPS. Even though TOPS has been under fire for helping wealthy students who don’t really need it–and I know a lot of otherwise successful, high GPA students who didn’t get TOPS because they weren’t also blessed with a high enough ACT score–I also know plenty of students who wouldn’t be able to afford to go to school if it weren’t for TOPS. While it’s true that not everyone needs it, and that we should invest far more in need-based GO Grants instead, the students who do need it, need it. On average, two-thirds of our state’s public higher ed students are on some form of financial aid according to IPEDS–which is sadly far below the national average. So I’m sure that cashier wasn’t working for the sheer love of cashiering. She’s working to help pay for school expenses or fees her school was forced to impose to stay open, on top of TOPS.

And now we are on the verge of telling that girl, in effect, that her future is not as a college graduate, but as a college drop-out cashier.

One of Bobby Jindal’s jobs of the future.

Because people have been brainwashed into thinking that paying any taxes at all is a horrible thing and just let all our colleges and universities close. Yes, I have heard that in the last couple of days. I almost have no response because there will be no changing their minds. Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they say.

So happy birthday, blog. The happiest birthday will be when our state finally appreciates, values, and prioritizes higher education.

But I don’t see that birthday happening anytime soon.

I hope I’m not right in that.

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