That spawned major legislation dealing with tuition, improved performance, greater management flexibility, merger of UNO and SUNO in New Orleans, and proposals to change the way the entire post-secondary education system is governed. By any measure, that was a lot.
Fast forward to today and that urgency about higher education seems to have all but vanished. That was evident this week at two different conferences on higher education issues featuring two different panels of legislators. The message from both panels: don’t expect higher education to be much of a priority during the upcoming legislative session even though there is a lot of unfinished business.
A lot of that unfinished business stems from recommendations made by a commission the Legislature created to look at the governance issue. CABL served on the Governance Commission which issued 21 recommendations in January on a wide variety of issues in higher education. They went beyond governance to other substantive matters, including tuition, budgeting, fiscal policies, TOPS and other types of financial aid. So why is there all of a sudden seemingly little interest in addressing those things?
The reason is pretty simple. There will be too many other major issues that all but dwarf higher education in terms of both controversy and complexity. The governor’s K-12 education proposals comprise a big part of that, but so do his pension reform ideas and the ritual fighting over a budget with limited resources.
When you stop and look at it, that’s unfortunate for higher education, but not entirely unexpected. It’s unfortunate because over the last couple of years, state policymakers began a healthy and much-needed debate over the future of higher education and forced college leaders to confront some thorny issues including performance, tuition, streamlining and efficiencies.
To a large degree that culminated in those recommendations from the Governance Commission which we hope will get a good and meaningful hearing this year. We recognize that some of its ideas were controversial to some, but all were substantive and worthy of a serious policy debate. Unfortunately, listening to lawmakers this week, it makes you wonder if that will happen. It was Saints quarterback Drew Brees who made the slogan “finish strong” a household phrase in Louisiana. For higher education, that doesn’t seem to be the game plan this year.
Colleges to Merge?
That sounds like a headline from last year when the proposed merger of UNO and SUNO in New Orleans was constantly in the news, but in this case the headline is from a few days ago. On Tuesday the Board of Regents recommended the merger of Louisiana Tech in Ruston and LSU-S in Shreveport following a comprehensive study and community discussions that have been going on for some time.
Without getting into the specifics of this proposal, CABL believes this type of discussion is good and healthy for communities and for higher education. In 2010 we issued a series of recommendations encouraging this kind of review. When we supported the UNO/SUNO merger, we were quick to point out that we should look at the delivery of post-secondary education services in other regions, as well. Not just New Orleans.
And as lawmakers consider the merger of Louisiana Tech and LSU-S this year, we’re saying the same thing. We should look at the big picture and begin to turn our eyes to other parts of the state where mergers or consolidations could lead to better-served communities and a post-secondary education system that is stronger for all. Isn’t that what we really want?