NEW ORLEANS — Southern University at New Orleans on Wednesday reported its highest enrollment since Hurricane Katrina’s devastating floods in 2005, with enrollment levels nearly where they were before the storm hit.
The school said 3,318 students had enrolled for the spring, 91 percent of the number enrolled when the storm hit. Officials had expected about 3,500 students, but financial problems prevented some from attending.
The enrollment figures come as state officials consider merging historically black SUNO with the neighboring University of New Orleans campus, also recovering from Katrina.
At the request of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, the state Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s four university systems, has hired a firm to study the consolidation of the two campuses. Recommendations from the Colorado-based National Center for Higher Education Management Systems are due to the regents by March 1.
On Tuesday, Dennis Jones, president of the Center, told the regents that the current fractured higher education system in the city doesn’t benefit students, noting low graduation rates at both schools, but he stopped short of saying consolidation would solve the problem.
SUNO leaders, alumni, students and many Black lawmakers oppose the merger. Opponents doubt it would save money and that the historically Black university provides opportunities for economically disadvantaged students that might be lost in a merger.
Low post-Katrina enrollment and low graduation rates at both schools were among the reasons Jindal gave for considering the merger.
SUNO Chancellor Victor Ukpolo said recently that neither was a legitimate reason for a move that he said would damage SUNO’s mission to provide higher education opportunities to the economically disadvantaged. The 2008 graduation rate of about 7 percent was no surprise, he said, because the 2005 storm drove away many students, either temporarily or permanently.
“This signifies that students remain confident that we are a great fit for them as they pursue their respective undergraduate and graduate degrees,” Ukpolo said in a news release, which did not directly address the merger proposal.