When the leading candidates for governor talk about higher education, they have a general emphasis on reversing the profound neglect by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration.
Several candidates talk about bringing up the state’s aid to campuses, so colleges and universities are less dependent on tuition dollars.
We think that’s a great notion given that Louisiana — a relatively poor state — desperately needs to be able to educate more people in the coming years.
We agree with Blueprint Louisiana, the business-led reform group, that “Louisiana’s residents deserve an opportunity to pursue the education and training to prepare them to fill the wide array of high-quality jobs opening up across the state.”
The good intentions of candidates often get lost in the brutal realities of the state’s poor financial condition because of the bad decisions of the Jindal years. We hope they will look to Blueprint and other groups’ recommendations for financial and tax reforms that could change the state’s fiscal prospects.
But Blueprint’s agenda for the new administration and 2016 Legislature also zeroes in on the importance of better policies in higher education.
Blueprint backs the changes in TOPS scholarships passed by the Legislature this year but vetoed by Jindal, even though the modest reform package was backed by Phyllis Taylor, the godmother of the program named for her late husband, oilman and philanthropist Patrick F. Taylor.
The Blueprint agenda also notes that higher education systems — there are four system boards, awash in financial troubles and political maneuvering — have to be able to make hard decisions about consolidating campuses and academic programs.
In fact, we’ve seen too little creative policy from the boards of higher education and a deplorable trend toward boosting enrollment at all costs. Here is Blueprint’s take: “Unfortunately, the deep cuts to higher education in recent years are tempting Louisiana leaders to lower admission standards to instantly create new paying customers for some campuses. This is a mistake (albeit a well-intentioned one) that could begin to reverse student performance gains and expose unprepared students with academic failure and burdensome student loan debts.”
Well-intentioned maybe but harmful to the interests of students. A student not prepared for college work is likely to flounder, piling up debt without achieving a diploma or workforce credential.
What this means is not that all is being mismanaged in higher education but that Jindal’s cuts have had secondary effects — including vast tuition increases and colleges easing admission requirements.
We strongly back more support for higher education. But poor policy performance by the higher education boards, from the Board of Regents on down, will not, as Blueprint says, “reset higher education for excellence.”