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|Politics prop La. colleges|
"We can't be all things to all people."
That was Gov. Bobby Jindal's message on higher education when he spoke to the opening session of the 2009 Legislature.
He's right. In large part because of politics, Louisiana's colleges do try to be all things to all people.
Trouble is, Jindal is not doing much to change things, even in a year of significant budget shortfalls.
Louisiana has, as reformers have pointed out for years, too many four-year colleges, and several of those at least two too many want to be major research institutions.
Resources are spread thin and not prioritized on any one goal. The single nationally relevant research institution, LSU's main campus, is likely to lose its hard-won status in the top tier of a national ranking because of budget cuts this year.
Problems in the system aren't limited to starving LSU from the means of national competition.
The proportion of Louisiana students in higher-cost four-year college classrooms, compared with those in lower-cost community colleges, is almost exactly the opposite of the percentages nationally. It's almost exactly the opposite percentage for job requirements in the work force during the next decade or so.
Management boards run "systems" that include two-year or four-year schools without regard to whether the "systems" can effectively be all things to all people.
Everything's out of balance. And even in this year of budget shortfalls, cuts to rationalize the system are not being made.
Jindal proposed not one specific campus closure or major downsizing in his budget; instead, he kicked the can of dynamite to the Board of Regents.
The Board of Regents didn't go on record for a single campus closure or significant downsizing. The Regents sent down budget cuts to the management boards that run, with varying degrees of efficiency and relevance, the congeries of campuses under their authority.
It's as if the governor and Legislature believe the lower down the political totem pole they kick the responsibility, the more likely tough decisions will be made.
Now, the Legislature will get Jindal's budget recommendations. Aside from House Speaker Jim Tucker, almost no one has breathed a word about consolidation or elimination of college campuses; state Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, backed down after criticism for even questioning the recent expansion of LSU-Alexandria into a four-year campus.
Campus leaders are not merely victims but also perps here: Who wants change? Essentially, no one.
A new funding formula for colleges that is supposed to focus more on results than enrollment numbers is under criticism, with campuses saying it should be delayed or phased in over such a period that it makes little difference to today's baronial brotherhood of college leaders.
Tucker has made no specific recommendations but has called for a study of the system to make it more rational, and specifically to get students who can be well-served in low-cost classrooms into them, rather than in higher-cost settings.
He's right, but voters rightly can be confused about why this requires another study. State government is all about studying questions for which the answers have been readily available for years.
Perhaps the cost-control commission established by Jindal will report some relevant findings maybe even tough ones when it reports to lawmakers in 2010. But for those awaiting action this year, don't hold your breath.
The (Baton Rouge) Advocate
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