A recent state legislative audit of the Louisiana Board of Regents awarded a “C” letter grade to the state’s higher education planning and coordinating body and listed criticisms about the overall performance.

But the audit, which reads like a question-and-answer report, seemed less like an indictment on the Board of Regents and more like a critique of the state’s laws and its overall higher education structure.

The audit suggested the Louisiana Legislature consider some statutory and constitutional changes to give the Board of Regents more clarity and authority over colleges statewide.

The audit recommendations seem to mesh with proposals from House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, that were just defeated in the Louisiana House.

Tucker and Gov. Bobby Jindal initially wanted to eliminate the Regents, the LSU System, the Southern University System, the University of Louisiana System and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System and instead form a single, higher education “superboard.” But some felt that was too convoluted when the plan also formed advisory boards for each college campus.

When Tucker realized that plan was dead, he instead changed it to reword the Louisiana Constitution to give the Board of Regents more authority over finances and control. But it was still defeated when critics said Tucker’s revised proposal would allow the Regents to strip the college systems of their authority over the “day-to-day operations” of colleges and essentially become the “superboard.”

The individual college systems were not thrilled with the idea of being neutered either.

The audit starts out with a question: “Does BoR plan, coordinate and exercise budgetary responsibility for all postsecondary education in Louisiana according to state law?”

The general answer is yes, but the audit states, “However, the laws addressing BoR’s responsibilities … are broad and unclear, making it difficult for BoR to effectively fulfill some of its responsibilities, meet the needs of stakeholders, and be held accountable.”

The audit also notes, “BoR’s ability to fulfill its budgetary responsibility is limited by the constitutional and statutory authority granted to the four-year university systems’ management boards.”

Prior to Jindal taking office, the Legislature funded colleges on a per-campus basis. Jindal has since proposed allocating the dollars through the Regents and the college funding formula, leaving lawmakers with less say-so.

“Because legal authority is granted to both BoR and the management boards, it is unclear which entity has ultimate responsibility for budgetary issues,” the audit states. The systems can reallocate dollars and the Legislature can approve additional line-item dollars to campuses. “Therefore, the final distribution of appropriated funds does not rest with BoR.”

So, the audit contends, “The legislature may wish to clarify statutes regarding BoR’s budgetary responsibilities and the authorities granted to the four university systems’ management boards to ensure that BoR is able to exercise its budgetary responsibility as intended by the legislature.”

Jim Purcell, the state’s new commissioner of higher education who leads the Board of Regents, responded, “Clarification of the laws … may make it easier to discern the responsibilities between the higher education management boards and the BoR.”

The Board of Regents in recent years has flexed its muscle in forcing colleges to eliminate academic programs that graduate few students and in forcing colleges to accept a Board of Regents-designed performance-based funding formula for colleges.

Some, like Tucker, believe the regents’ authority does not go far enough, while college systems cringe at the thought of a governor-appointed board having too much control.

Jordan Blum covers higher education for The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. Email him at jblum@theadvocate.com.