The main reason why Louisiana has gotten into the position where it has 14 such institutions is because politics, rather than educational or financial considerations, have played the main role in determining what gets taught where. There’s little real reason to have in smaller cities a Northwestern State, Southeastern, Nicholls State, Louisiana Tech, or Grambling when they all are within a hour’s drive of major metropolitan areas with their own (often more than one) major state universities. It also makes little sense to have a Southern University right down the street from the University of New Orleans, and another Southern University up the road from Louisiana State University Baton Rouge.
But you just can’t pick up whole campuses and transport them so the state is looking into some kinds of consolidations. Obviously, the move making the most sense would be to end the Southern University system and combine them into the appropriate LSU schools (including associate degree-granting Southern University Shreveport with Bossier Parish Community College) and to combine Grambling and Louisiana Tech, institutions that grant undergraduate and graduate degrees just miles apart from each other in an area of population about 30,000.
Of course, that will never happen because the schools to be merged into others will themselves and have their alumni (a few of whom roam the state Legislature) complain about the end of tradition and will claim each school has a unique, distinct mission – if any of that is true, it certainly pales in comparison to the hundreds of millions of dollars the state would save each year by this rearrangement. In the end politics, rather than efficient delivery of higher education, will win out.
More limited reforms could occur concerning the campuses in small cities near large ones, where they are more than several miles apart and could not easily consolidate resources. But it cannot occur for trivial reasons. As consultants recently have observed, there must be some synergy of functions, or nothing meaningful gets accomplished.
Fortunately, a synergistic-based strategic plan already exists – the Board of Regents of the State of Louisiana’s 2001 Master Plan. I’ll use my employer, whose views I may or may not represent on this issue, Louisiana State University Shreveport, as an example on how this can work.
LSUS is designated in the plan as the comprehensive university in Northwest Louisiana – that is, it should be the primary institution in serving educational needs in this part of the state. Historically, it has not been. NSU has been allowed to poach students through Shreveport-based programs such as its nursing programs. Tech has been allowed to offer graduate coursework at its Barksdale Air Force Base satellite campus. And graduate medical education, of course, is taken care of by the LSU Health Sciences Center Shreveport.
Given the disparate locations and roles of the programs involved, a merger really would not work. Instead, shifting of programs makes much more sense. Something like this should occur:
Obviously, politics will intrude on these suggestions, too. NSU and Tech will scream about losing these functions. But these are the kinds of things consultants need to be considering because they will save the state tens of millions of dollars (my best guess; it could be much higher) a year and will bring more rationality to higher education in the state. Whether common sense will prevail on this matter is another matter entirely.