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31.5.12

Bill deals with higher education inefficiency inadequately

The first was an error of commission with the failure to create greater efficiency in Louisiana higher education delivery through the merger of Southern University New Orleans with the University of New Orleans. The second would have been an error of commission by inducing more inefficiency into the system by forcing together Louisiana State University Shreveport and Louisiana Tech University. Perhaps the third time is the charm although the actions and rhetoric involved signals the lesson could use a lot of reinforcing.

SB 284 by state Sen. Page Cortez would merge several disparate technical school campuses into South Louisiana Community College, located in Lafayette. While the number of campuses that would be consolidated under SLCC appears impressive, seven, in fact they are all governed under one administrative superstructure anyway, Acadiana Technical College, located in Lafayette. The other six are in Abbeville, Crowley, New Iberia, Opelousas, St. Martinville, and Ville Platte – none more than 40 miles away from the main campus. The total number of students spread among these campuses this academic year was 3,852 (SLCC enrolled 3,910).

In fact, a major problem identified years ago in the system was the presence of too many campuses with too few students. Well over half then had fewer than 250 students, and while state data do not permit breaking this down by campus, at least a couple of ATC likely qualify on this account. This mirrors the larger problem of too many campuses in the state; Louisiana ranks among the top four in smallest enrollments per two-year schools, behind other states with populations about half its size or smaller. So it might appear this bill would help out to decrease system inefficiency of too many buildings and locations and not enough people.

Except that the bill, while consolidating some administrative functions, explicitly mandates that SLCC continue to operate the separate and disparate campuses (it actually sits next to the main ATC campus). That means this does little to address the wastefulness in inherent in the system.

Naturally enough, Louisiana Community and Technical College System President Joe May defended the unwieldy arrangement, echoing in the House committee considering the bill state Rep. Jim Fannin who voiced concern about “centralization” (oddly enough, he seemed to have no trouble with the concept when he sponsored one of the bills to merge LSUS and LTU). May joined in opposition, stating “If a student cannot get to an institution within 20 minutes, the odds are they won’t take advantage.”

Yet this assumption that you have to have a trade school around every corner flies in the face of experience of other states. Louisiana has the sixth-most campuses of two-year schools in the country, with only much larger-populated states having more, yet Louisiana higher education outcomes routinely drag the rear while per capita higher education utilization remains low despite the plethora of locations. If other states seem to do better with outcomes, seem to have a higher proportion of their citizens accessing post-secondary education, and don’t have relatively as many campuses, shouldn’t that be telling policy-makers that the state’s lagging performance in this area may be a result of resources spread too thinly?

Apparently not to May nor legislators like Fannin, who appear more interested preserving payrolls and resources coming into the system and its various many locations. This bill deserves to pass into law because it brings a small amount of increased sanity to Louisiana poorly-distributed, overbuilt system of higher education, but its extremely limited scope also indicates so much more work remains to replace the attitude among policy-makers of higher education as a jobs provider and resource accumulator with that of its efficient and effective operation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

how many students do you teach a year for your salary