By: Kevin Boyd
Louisiana has 14 four-year universities. Florida, with over four times the population of Louisiana only has 12 four-year universities. Louisiana can no longer sustain this many universities.
The state’s many public universities is crowding out better options for Louisiana’s young people. Many states have steered kids, for their first two years of college, to junior and community colleges. They average about a third of the tuition of a four-year and it can transition academically struggling students into college-level work. This large number of universities also crowds out private and religious institutions. Government should never crowd out civil society.
If we go by Florida’s proportion, Louisiana would only keep 3 or 4 four-year universities. But asking the legislature and the Board of Regents to close or privatize 10 universities is probably a bit much. This session, we should close or privatize five universities.
When deciding to close or privatize universities, lawmakers need to take some factors into account. The first thing to consider are the graduation rates. Another thing to consider is are these schools in the midst of an attendance death spiral, ie. they’re losing lots of students. We also need to look at the total enrollment of each campus.
The ideal schools for closure are the small campuses that graduate nobody. The schools slated for privatization are schools with a somewhat decent attendance, but lost a lot of students over the past few years. These schools also have a low graduation rate or one that’s at least below state average.
When you look at some of the statistics from the Board of Regents about graduation rates and student enrollment, some decisions are easy.
- We’ve been picking on SUNO at lot here lately. But the decision to close it should be a no-brainer. This is a school with a graduation rate of 11.2% and has been bleeding students, complete with a 13% nose dive in attendance from last year to this year. The school only has 2,734 students, surely they can be accommodated at UNO, SLU, or even Delgado and Nunez Community Colleges.
- It’s also time to pull the plug on LSU-Alexandria. The school is the newest four-year school in the system. The school’s graduation rate stands at an abysmal 13.8% with many students transferring out. The school needs to be dropped to a two-year college and merged with Central Louisiana Technical Community College. The students in their third and fourth years can surely be accommodated at other four-year schools across the state.
- Grambling has been another school we’ve been picking on a lot. With an 11% drop in attendance from last year,accreditation issues, an ongoing financial disaster, and Louisiana’s third-worst graduation rate at 31.7%; Grambling is nearly a failed institution. The school also performs atrociously compared to other Historically Black Universities. This state no longer has the money to prop it up. Given the pride and tradition associated with Grambling, they should survive as a private institution. The state of Louisiana should float a bond for the amount of money that Grambling would receive from the state for the next ten years and the money would be invested in Grambling’s endowment. The 20 year bond would be secured by the property and buildings Grambling is on. Grambling students would continue to have much of their tuition covered by TOPS as if they were public university students for the next five years if they meet the qualifications. For Grambling’s sake, let’s hope it models itself after academically successful HBUs such as Howard University and Xavier University in New Orleans.
- Nicholls State University performs pretty well. Its graduation rate is 41.3%, which is just slightly below the state average. The problem with Nicholls is that it’s one of the smaller schools in the state and is in the midst of an attendance death spiral. The school has lost 890 students or 13.3% of its enrollment since 2009. Nicholls should also go private using the same process proposed for Grambling. South Louisiana can use another private university, possibly a Catholic one, outside of New Orleans.
- Merge LSU Shreveport and Louisiana Tech. Louisiana Tech will never be a world class university as long as it is located in Ruston. LSU Shreveport is another small school with an abysmal graduation rate of 32.6%. The solution is to phase-in a move for Louisiana Tech from Ruston to Shreveport. Here’s a map of the LSU Shreveport campus area:
There’s plenty of room to build a world class campus on the site of LSU-S and the surrounding area. The school should model itself after CalTech and MIT and become Louisiana’s public university that has an emphasis on science and technology.
Not only should the state close/merge/privatize some public universities; we should also look at an approach to grant more autonomy to regional universities in exchange for parish governments providing half of the government funding for them. There’s a perfect school to try this experiment with, UNO.
UNO is not happy at being a part of the University of Louisiana system. They were not happy with being a part of the LSU system before then. The solution here is to make UNO a separate entity, just as Southern University is, under the Board of Regents. In exchange for autonomy, the New Orleans area parish governments step up with a dedicated source of revenue that would be matched dollar for dollar by the state. Since UNO would stay a public university, students would be unaffected for TOPS.
The new UNO Board of Supervisors would comprise 9 people; 1 person appointed by the Mayor of New Orleans, 1 person appointed by the Board of Regents, and 1 person appointed by each parish government of Jefferson, Plaquemine, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John, and St. Tammany. The 8 parishes would have a dedicated revenue stream to support UNO whether a hotel-motel tax, a sales tax, or a property tax. The chair would be the person appointed by the Board of Regents and would only vote to break ties and the vice-chair would be the person appointed by the Mayor of New Orleans.
The hard, but necessary choices have to be made about higher education. This conversation has been put off for years, now with a $1.6 billion deficit, we must have it.