While the state Legislature did not force major structural changes to higher education this year, lawmakers did approve a record number of resolutions and studies to be undertaken by colleges and their coordinating bodies.
The biggest is a resolution to form a new commission to study the overall governance of higher education and other related matters. The findings and recommendations must be submitted in January.
The Legislature’s efforts — 25 resolutions and studies — will mean a lot of extra work and research for the Louisiana Board of Regents, which serves as the state’s higher education coordinating and policy body. But Jim Purcell, the state’s new commissioner of higher education, said he prefers too much attention over too little.
“I’m pretty happy higher education is of interest,” Purcell said. “I think that’ll help us in the long run.”
The resolutions include requests for a myriad of regional higher education studies, the creation of a new Remedial Education Commission, studying expanding dual enrollment programs, studying tuition gaps between the state and the rest of the region, partnering more with the Louisiana Workforce Commission and much more.
Resolutions also include advising on the future of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, called LUMCON, and seeking more funding to offset cuts to the state’s college library network, or LOUIS.
There is even one resolution seeking the Board of Regents to work with the state Department of Health and Hospitals to modify and improve the Louisiana Midwife Practitioners Act.
But most of the overall Board of Regents efforts will look at studying higher education structure and governance issues on regional and statewide levels. Several of the resolutions overlap and could be merged, Purcell said.
House Concurrent Resolution 184 by state Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, will attract the most attention by forming a large, 18-person commission to study the future of the state’s higher education structure.
Purcell said he favors of clarifying and strengthening the role of the Board of Regents in leadership and budgetary matters.
“It’s not necessarily the governance structure; it’s the ability to lead,” Purcell said.
The next step is determining who will serve on the commission and which out-of-state experts will be brought in to testify, he said.
HCR184 states the commission should reflect the state’s race and gender and comprise:
• Four Board of Regents appointments.
• Five Gov. Bobby Jindal appointments.
• One each from the boards of the LSU System, Southern University System, University of Louisiana System and the Louisiana and Community and Technical College System.
• The Senate Education Committee chairman, currently Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, and another committee member appointed by the chairman.
• The House Education Committee chairman, currently Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, and another committee member appointed by the chairman.
• The state’s Workforce Investment Council chairman, currently Edward Rispone.
Jindal and House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, started the legislative session proposing eliminating all the higher education boards and forming a single “superboard,” along with new advisory boards for individual campuses.
But that legislation was defeated on the House floor.
Jindal and Tucker also proposed merging the University of New Orleans with Southern University at New Orleans. That plan also was defeated.
A compromise resulted in the transfer of UNO from the LSU System to the UL System, which turned about to be the only significant higher education structural change of the session.
Apart from considering governance and board consolidation, the commission also is tasked with studying academic programs, duplicative services and personnel, student transfer plans, college tuition levels, the state’s performance-based funding formula and more.
The wide range of goals likens the proposed commission to the Louisiana Postsecondary Education Review Commission, nicknamed PERC, and the Tucker Commission, that finished its work in February 2010. Purcell said the new commission could build on the previous work and achieve more of the recommendations.
“It’s really all about how to build your human capital here in Louisiana,” Purcell said.
He said the Regents’ regional studies will start in the Houma area, then move to central Louisiana. The Alexandria area is admittedly more tricky, he said, because LSU at Alexandria was transformed from a community college to a university, and now there are requests to open a new community college.
Next, Purcell said, they will study the Shreveport area and northern Louisiana, where Louisiana Tech University is considering a move to the LSU System, which would essentially result in a swap-out between Tech and UNO.
“I want to ask (in each region), how do you ultimately see your future?” Purcell said.
The other question is how to finance the extra work.
“We’ll be redirecting, but we’ll get it done for sure,” Purcell said.