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La. College Commission Suggests Restructuring

BATON ROUGE, La. — The final list of recommendations from a higher education restructuring panel would shift the way dollars are divvied up among Louisiana’s public college campuses and reshuffle governance of the schools.

The Postsecondary Education Review Commission, a nine-member panel charged by the Legislature with proposing ways to’ improve colleges in Louisiana, completed its report Friday. Now, the focus shifts to college leaders, who have given mixed reviews to the recommendations, and to lawmakers who would have to buy into the ideas for many of them to be enacted.

The panel suggested cutting the number of higher education governing boards, rewriting the formula that divides state dollars among campuses, raising admission standards at four-year campuses and giving colleges more of a say in setting their tuition rates.

“I think they’ve given us a pathway, and it’s up to us now to put those recommendations into action,” said state Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Sally Clausen.

The commission was filled with national and regional higher education experts. Its report heads next to the Board of Regents, which governs all public higher education in the state.

Lawmakers hope some of the proposals will help lessen the blow of several rounds of budget cuts to public colleges. House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, whose legislation created the commission, said he would include many of the panel’s recommendations in a bill for the upcoming session that begins in March.

Some of the commission’s proposals would require only policy changes from the Board of Regents, while others would require changes in state law or Louisiana’s constitution.

Criticism of the recommendations has started to emerge.

LSU System President Dr. John Lombardi praised the time the commission worked. But then he called the recommendations “theoretical propositions for improvement” that weren’t tested against real data or based on ‘the political and financial realities of the state.

“The expression of goals without careful, fact-based analysis and without a careful consideration of unintended consequences of seemingly simple corrective measures offers little support for improvement,” Lombardi said in a statement.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive counsel, Stephen Waguespack, expressed support for many of the commission ideas, including increased admission standards, the governance changes and a rigorous review of low-performing programs at campuses.

Among the 22 proposals adopted in its six months of work, the commission suggested shrinking the number of higher education governing boards from five to two, with a board for four-year universities and a board for community and technical colleges. The community college system would take over management of LSU at Eunice and Southern University at Shreveport.

Saying that thousands of students would be better served at two-year colleges, the commission suggested admission standards should be tougher at the state’s four-year public universities, as a way to boost graduation rates and steer more students to community colleges.

About 42 percent of Louisiana’s four-year college students get a degree, according to data from the Board of Regents. The goals in the commission proposal range from boosting that to 50 percent to 75 percent, varying by school.

On finances, commission members said the current system for divvying up state higher education dollars was based too heavily on student enrollment and colleges were stymied to help themselves because of restrictions on tuition increases.

The commission suggested:

·         Lawmakers should relinquish much of their authority over tuition and fee increases, allowing schools to raise tuition without approval from lawmakers if the campuses improve their graduation rates.

·         The funding formula for schools should be revamped and tied more strongly to performance. The proposal would require 25 percent of state funding for colleges to be based on performance standards— like student graduation rates and skills training for high-need job areas. Currently, 2 percent of state funding is divided among schools in that manner.

·         Freshman- and sophomore-level courses should be funded at the same rate across campuses, despite complaints from higher education officials that there are different types of teachers and instructional quality.

·         Historically Black colleges would get additional funding designed to close the gap in salaries, facilities, faculty-to-student ratios and other areas in which the schools fall behind other schools in the state.

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