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Change, merge before expanding LA higher education

The call for increasing the capacity of Louisiana’s community college system underscores the mistakes of the past, and illuminates the pitfalls of the future regarding the state’s overbuilt system of higher education. From these observations, we can learn how to go about creating a more efficient system.

State Sen. Ben Nevers recently bemoaned that fact that the Florida Parishes area and central Louisiana had a paucity of community college choices. What he neglected to add was it had more than enough in terms of higher education and technical schools, the former condition a result of political machinations.

Long ago, in the former Gov. Huey Long era, smack in the middle of the Northshore area Southeastern Louisiana University was promoted from junior college status despite its fairly light area population and being only 50 miles away from the flagship school Louisiana State University Baton Rouge. In part this was as a result of the animosity of Longite forces towards New Orleans, considered the hotbed of anti-Long sentiment, in order to continue to deny the placement of a state university in New Orleans. In fact, that did not transpire until the 1950s and only about 50 years ago did New Orleans, through today’s University of New Orleans, gain an independent baccalaureate-and-above public institution.

Some six decades later, the same transformation occurred in central Louisiana. Louisiana State University Alexandria, under pressure from jealous state legislators who wanted the prestige of a baccalaureate institution in the area despite Northwestern State University being just 60 miles away and the University of Louisiana-Lafayette only 80 miles distant. In short, perfectly serviceable community colleges had existed in these areas Nevers now calls underserved until politics with little regard for more economical and realistic modes of delivery of higher education reared its ugly head.

While Louisiana Community and Technical College System Pres. Joe May sensibly talks about adding to technical schools’ portfolio to expand into community college education in these area, being that the state has, at one every couple of parishes, too many technical schools as well, more efficient would be using existing structures and infrastructure. Form this specific complaint, this would mean SLU and LSUA reverting back to community colleges.

In the case of the former, there is no good reason that any of its specialized baccalaureate or graduate programs can’t be moved to LSU or, perhaps better, 50 miles away to UNO where the real problems in efficiency exist because of the relative depopulation of the New Orleans area in the wake of the 2005 hurricane disasters. UNO is only at two-thirds of its former capacity and easily could accommodate the increased traffic. Also, the urban surroundings of UNO offer much more potential for synergy and collaboration with government and the private sector than does the semi-rural setting of Hammond.
While in the case of LSUA the Alexandria area is a small urban area, a better case would be to move its baccalaureate functions to either NSU given its much larger capacity or programs that would be more enhanced in an urban environment to ULL. Special consideration should be given to send some of them to my employer, Louisiana State University Shreveport, which also enjoys some slack capacity and would beef up, in per capita terms, the most underserved metropolitan area in the country regarding public baccalaureate-and-above institutions of higher learning.

By no means are these the only downgrading, mergers, and consolidations necessary to relieve the state of its dubious distinction of being a top ten per capita spender in higher education while settling in the bottom ten in outcomes and per capita population per public institution. But regarding this specific issue, use of existing resources and including the possible personnel parings that would result must come before new and additional expenditures on buildings and staff.

Naturally, politics represents the largest impediment for this kind of solution to go forward, both from elected officials who would feel loss of prestige and jobs (meaning more unhappy constituents) in these areas, and from the higher education system itself, which as with any bureaucratic organization does not want to see it resources reduced (and, personally, it would be unfortunate from my perspective to see pals of mine possibly out of jobs). However, overcoming this kind of resistance is vital to provide more savings and greater bang for the buck for Louisiana taxpayers in the delivery of higher education.


Anonymous said...

Hmm. I don't see any mention of another state funded university located in Baton Rouge - Southern University. Could it be too hot a potato to handle?

Anonymous said...

There are numerous "hot potato's" in this story. The Shreveport-Bossier area has LSUS, SUSLA, BPCC, not to mention Centenary (private) and too many private "technical colleges " to count. Then, moving east, we have Grambling, La. Tech and Northeast. Moving south, we have Northwestern, Louisiana College (private),LSU-A, McNeese and LSU-E. We certainly don't have a shortage of colleges and uniersities in this state. We truly do need an end to duplication (and duplicity too), and help will not be comong from the Roads Scholar.