Members of a legislative commission on Tuesday discussed making “tweaks” to the state’s higher education governing structure, while speaking out against consolidating into any type of “superboard” for colleges.
Guest presenter and education consultant Aims McGuinness told the Governance Commission that the higher education boards and systems could use more statutory clarity in their roles, but that wholesale changes are not needed.
The Governance Commission is the result of House Concurrent Resolution 184, approved in June as a compromise after legislation failed that would have eliminated the state’s college boards and systems and formed a merged higher education superboard with additional advisory committees.
The commission is going to start making formal recommendations to the Legislature in November.
Louisiana currently has the LSU System, the University of Louisiana System, the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, the Southern University System and the Louisiana Board of Regents, which is the coordinating and oversight body.
Former Gov. Buddy Roemer heavily pushed for a single higher education board 20 years ago and current Gov. Bobby Jindal has backed doing so as well.
Commission Vice Chairman Sean Reilly of Baton Rouge said higher education has made a lot of progress in 20 years by growing a community college system and adopting admission standards for universities.
“We look dramatically different now,” Reilly said. “I’m not sure we want to go back and have that debate. We’ve come a long way.”
“Maybe we need to accept that there’s no magical organizational structure that will solve all the problems,” added commission member James Lyons Sr. of New Orleans.
McGuinness, senior associate for the Colorado-based National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, called NCHEMS, said the Louisiana Legislature and the governor should stop controlling college tuition authority and doing other micromanaging and focus on holding the colleges accountable.
Commission member Barry Erwin of Baton Rouge summed up the superboard argument, although he did not support it.
“You’ve got five boards total and you’ve got duplication of services,” he said, so consolidation makes sense on the surface.
“You don’t want to just mush them together and say conform to this,” McGuinness responded.
But more should be done in terms of collaborating and “sharing back-office operations,” he said. “It would really be on the theme of improving what you have.”
Commission member and state Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, said higher education must now “provide stability.”
“I do think we’ve had a lot of problems with communication between the Legislature and the governor and the Board of Regents and the management boards,” Nevers said, “and that’s caused a lot of frustration.”
Apart from the primary focus of graduating more students, McGuinness said another priority should be on fixing the regional “irritants.”
Cited issues include:
• Discussions of merging Louisiana Tech University with LSU in Shreveport.
• Possibly moving Southern University at Shreveport and LSU at Eunice into the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.
• Figuring out what to do in Alexandria long-term now that LSU at Alexandria is a four-year university and Central Louisiana Technical College is expanding its mission.
The college system presidents also spoke out against consolidating the boards.
University of Louisiana System President Randy Moffett said things might look different if the state could start with a clean slate, but it cannot just erase infrastructure.
The problems mostly come from a lack of resources, he said, not from having too many boards.
“You don’t make change for the sake of making change,” Moffett said.