Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards has a big challenge ahead to restore the holes in higher education left by outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal.
We are confident that his knowledge of the issue, gained in eight years on the House Education Committee, will serve him in good stead in dealing with the Legislature next year.
A transition team of advisers has practitioners of long experience, including Joseph Savoie, former commissioner of high education and current president of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and Carolyn Hargrave, formerly a top LSU administrator.
The team includes names like Sean Reilly, a business leader and former legislator, and outside experts include Barry Erwin, of the Council for a Better Louisiana. The group is chaired by former state official Kim Hunter Reed.
The governor-elect has fought Jindal cuts to higher education for years.
The budget problems that crippled colleges during Jindal’s terms are still with us.
Many of the solutions to be recommended will depend on a larger budget deal that makes money available to restore the cuts of the Jindal years. In the campaign, Edwards talked about a 50-50 goal, meaning that half of colleges’ funds would come from tuition and fees and half from state support. That would require millions in new funding and it is a goal that will require several years to achieve, most likely.
The recommendations of Blueprint Louisiana, the business policy group, included not only greater support for colleges but an insistence on maintaining high academic standards.
“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,” Blueprint warned this year. “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.”
That’s not all. Blueprint’s agenda called for more freedom of colleges to control their own expenses, such as buying and selling equipment or property, than in the restrictive state purchasing system. It also favored college boards to have more control of tuition and fees, something that’s a political hot potato in the Legislature.
The state also ought to “establish a process that empowers higher education systems to consolidate and/or realign programs and campuses and retain savings achieved to strengthen their right-sized campuses and programs,” Blueprint said. Translated, that means downsizing regional campuses that are now having difficulty keeping enrollment up in many programs. Politically, that’s tough.
Blueprint’s past chairman, Dr. Philip Rozeman, of Shreveport, is also on the transition team. We hope his colleagues listen.
As much as anything, these proposals represent hard-headed and nonpolitical thinking about the future.
Edwards is absolutely right: Cutting higher education is not a path to progress. But if the state restores its financial commitment to higher education, the taxpayer has to be assured that the money is spent efficiently and is paying for quality.