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|Interesting times ahead for higher ed in La.|
Is Louisiana serious about streamlining postsecondary education, better known in most circles as higher ed?
We will learn the answer to that question by this time next year after Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature have either acted or ignored the work of the newly minted Postsecondary Education Review Commission.
Created by the Legislature during the 2009 regular session, the postsecondary education commission will spend the next seven to eight months studying ways to "streamline" or "revamp" higher ed in Louisiana. The commission will submit its findings to the Board of Regents prior to the 2010 regular legislative session. The Board of Regents is responsible for establishing policy and direction for the higher ed community.
According to a news release from the governor's office, the Postsecondary Education Review Commission will serve to "review and improve the efficiency of the higher education system in Louisiana. The commission will review all aspects of postsecondary education in order to ensure that the enterprise is operating effectively and in a manner that best serves students, their families and the state."
What the news release from the governor's office did not say is the commission will study higher ed from head to toe to determine how the state can finance it in light of limited resources to do it.
When we refer to the higher ed community, let's remember that includes community and technical colleges, institutions in the University of Louisiana System, as well as the state's "flagship" system, LSU. Of course, the "flagship" system would include LSU in Baton Rouge and LSU's presence, or campuses, in various communities around the state, including LSU's agricultural concerns.
Though talk has been bantered about for years that the state should take a long, hard look at how we operate, or finance, higher ed in Louisiana, talk turned into action (maybe) during the 2009 regular session when state lawmakers were forced to either raise taxes or cut spending on higher ed in the face of a more than $1-billion budget shortfall. Higher ed came up short.
So, we've got this new commission now, which is comprised of the following:
• The president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools or a designee;
• Two members appointed by the Board of Regents from nationally recognized postsecondary education organizations or groups;
• Two members appointed by the governor;
• The speaker of the House of Representatives or a designee;
• The president of the Senate or a designee;
• The chair of the Board of Regents or a designee; and
• The president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education or a designee.
It would be safe to say the individuals who serve on the commission are fairly intelligent folks. Probably not a pea picker among them, professionally that is.
Two members of the commission who we should describe as top-notch men, or rock-solid appointees, are James Davison of Ruston and Dr. James Wharton. Davison is a successful businessman; Wharton is a former chancellor at LSU in Baton Rouge. Davison graduated from La. Tech, and he is one of Tech's most loyal supporters, financially and otherwise; Wharton has forgotten more about higher ed than most people will learn in a lifetime.
Davison and Wharton are examples of the caliber of people who will spend the next several months studying higher ed while working with other members of the commission in hopes of presenting a plan to the Board of Regents for Jindal and the Legislature to, again, either act on or ignore or implement piecemeal.
Surprisingly, Jindal has been quiet as of late on what he would like to see the commission accomplish. State lawmakers, for the most part, haven't whimpered a word on the topic.
That's understandable since it is a near certainty that any plan the postsecondary education commission conjures up will entail the elimination and/or consolidation of courses and programs and the like at higher ed campuses throughout Louisiana. The University of Louisiana-Monroe and Delta Community College in Monroe are prime examples of institutions located within a stone's throw of one another that offer similar, if not identical, courses. In other words, ULM and DCC are prime for the pickin' if saving money is one of the commission's goals.
Yet, whatever the postsecondary education commission pieces together must pass muster with Jindal and the Legislature, which in 2010, will be starring at an election year in 2011. Disgruntled constituents who feel their "institutions" are being unfairly targeted by the commission, no doubt, will try their best to influence the governor's and the Legislature's decisions.
Let's hope the commission's findings are on target, void of those nasty turf battles over who gets what and why, while it's imperative that the Legislature develops a backbone to implement recommendations the commission submits.
If Jindal and the Legislature are too concerned with whose toes they may step on in implementing the commission's findings, the commission's work will have been a waste of time.