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Fiscal situation demands sanity from higher education

The hurricane disasters present Louisiana with an opportunity to reshape higher education in the state in a way that will bring sanity to the system.

There are two problems with the way higher education is structured in Louisiana. First, there are too many four-year institutions and not enough two-year schools. For example (considering only public schools), Illinois, with a population of about 12.5 million has 15 four-year schools and 48 community colleges. Louisiana, with about 4.5 million, has 14 four-year schools and 9 community colleges. Isn’t there some imbalance and inefficiency here?

The other is that, as a vestige of discrimination, a separate track of schools was dedicated to only black students (while others, until the last 40 years, were shunning blacks) and has operated even in the shadow of other universities when all long ago were mandated to accept students of any race. Four of the five schools – only one of Louisiana’s few community colleges, Southern University Shreveport, in this system is the only one not almost next door to another institution doing the same thing – are essentially duplicative.

State leaders steadfastly have refused to accept that the state is overbuilt in four year institutions and tolerates having duplicative institutions side-by-side (Grambling and Louisiana Tech, Southern – Baton Rouge and LSU, and Southern – New Orleans and UNO, and the LSU Agriculture and Law schools and Southern’s versions) are within about five miles or less of each other. Just a comparison of state figures tells the tale – including vocational/technical schools Illinois averages 4,110 students per school, Louisiana’s is nearly half that at 2,357 per school.

Currently, Southern – New Orleans and Delgado and Nuñez Community Colleges are unable to open if not largely gutted by the disasters. SUNO particularly has been wracked by them with an estimate of $500 billion to rebuild – while UNO, with largely the same programs and which weathered the flooding much better, exists two miles to the west down Leon C. Simon. Why rebuild SUNO at all?

Far cheaper would be to allow SUNO professors to take presently open faculty positions at UNO when available, figure out a way to combine the community colleges into one, give generous severance packages to leftover SUNO and community college faculty and administrators, and reassign wherever possible classified employees to other nearby state institutions. Let’s face it, these schools serve mostly Orleanians and those down in the parish (St. Bernard) which will be reduced in large numbers for the next few years, so there’s no reason to waste resources on them.

But the rest of the state needs to step up to save money, too. Duplicative programs that still exist after the rebalancing of the 1990s at the pairs of schools mentioned above also should be reduced if not eliminated.

Alumni of these institutions might pout, legislators from their districts might fulminate, some students from them might complain – but with hundreds of millions, perhaps a billion dollars of budgetary deficits and capital expenditures to be stretched thin from rebuilding over the coming years, realigning Louisiana higher education in a way that makes sense is now positively overdue.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. Hindsight really *is* 20/20.