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27.2.06

Make correct, not expedient, changes in higher education

As is proper, Louisiana is reviewing the provision of higher education in the state in the light of the 2005 hurricane disasters. The luxury of too many baccalaureate degree-granting campuses no longer can be sustained in light of the new fiscal realities.

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:

  • NSU’s School of Nursing should be transferred into LSUHSC (which should not, given LSUHSC’s current scope and facilities, not result in the loss of accreditation)
  • Tech should be made more purely into an engineering school, with transfers of functions such as offering degree in the Liberal Arts to LSUS
  • Any Tech graduate programs currently offered in Shreveport should be transferred to LSUHSC or LSUS, wherever appropriate
  • Some serious thought should be made to transferring NSU’s educational instruction to LSUS, even though NSU has a long history in this area (it started as a teachers’ college) because, quite simply, there’s a whole lot more demand for teachers in the 350,000-person Bossier and Caddo Parishes than there is in 25,000-person Natchitoches Parish.

    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.
  • 3 comments:

    Christopher Williams said...

    Please visit Louisiana's Campaign Train.
    http://louisianacampaigntrain.blogspot.com/

    Anonymous said...

    I read your post each day.
    This is encouraging opinion and news. Downloaded the Board of Regents Report. Trouble back in the 60s was credit transfers from one college to another. If you started at Northwestern and transferred to Tech like some of my friends you lost many credits and wasted time. Standardized courses and statewide acceptance by all schools in the system is needed. Eliminate brand names for more generic school names on diplomas. Would put some sports programs out of business, but what's higher education all about if not education for a better life.

    Too many separate schools wanting name recognization offering the same types of degrees in small towns.

    Jimmy Couvillion

    Lloyd said...

    If Louisiana wants to reform its higher education system based on efficiency, it should perform a relative efficiency analysis and target more cuts (straight or via consolidation) at the least efficient institutions in the state.

    For simplicity, efficiency here is defined as cost per unit of output. Let's make the number of graduations per year as the output, and total appropriation per student as the cost. This approach controls for the size of the institution. Using this approach, we get the following highest cost per completion, separating 2-yr and 4-year institutions:

    2-year (avg. = $68,438)
    1. Baton Rouge CC, $120,191
    2. South Louisiana CC, $91,150
    3. Louisiana Delta CC, $84,803
    4. Rapids Parish CC, $84,374
    5. Fletcher CC, $76,439

    4-year (avg. = $63,466)
    1. Grambling State, $86,313
    2. LSU A&M, $77,833
    3. Southern, $73,716
    4. LSU-Alexandria, $73,340
    5. UL-Monroe, $71,683

    A more rigorous approach would take into account the multiple outputs and inputs used in the production of higher education. Using such an approach, my analysis shows that Baton Rouge CC is the least efficient 2-year institution (by far) because the vast majority of its students do not complete a program. To be fair, the 2-year schools are often feeders to 4-year schools, so completion may be an inappropriate measure here. On the other hand, Grambling and Southern are the least efficient 4-year institutions mainly because they have the smallest student-faculty ratio in the state.

    In this more rigorous approach (using Data Envelopment Analysis), LSU A&M and LA-Tech are highly efficient because they have the highest retention and completion rates, even though their student-faculty ratios are comparable to Southern and Grambling. Moreover, one national study has placed LSU A&M and LA-Tech as among the most efficient universities in the nation, with the likes of Harvard. See http://web.wm.edu/economics/wp/cwm_wp24.pdf

    This national study suggests that LSU A&M and LA-Tech do the best they can with what they get. This means if they had Harvard resources, they too could be comparable to Harvard in quality, assuming strict management practices remain.

    I would suggest that Louisiana start with these two flagships that serve different purposes, and organize all institutional programs around what these two do or don't provide. This would mean combining duplicative programs into these two institutions where appropriate.


    LSU A&M and LA-Tech's advantages include being able to take advantage of scale efficiencies and the fact that they attract the best sstudents in the state, making it easier to achieve relatively higher retention and completion rates.

    Of course, access issues must be solved, and they are part of what imposes costs on the state's system. Access problems start with the state's (and nation's) history of discrimination that created the need for HBCUs, which are now simply a preference. I have always said that racial segregation is an expensive (and immoral) way to organize a society! Access problems also are related to differential standards, so these should be tiered in concert with consolidation considerations.