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|Move forward with consolidation|
Earlier this week the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill backed by the Jindal administration that would consolidate Southern University-New Orleans with the University of New Orleans.
The vote in committee was 17-4. It is worth noting the Appropriations Committee is stacked with lawmakers who would be considered allies of Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The House of Representatives is expected to entertain the SUNO/UNO merger bill later this week.
The consolidation measure supported by Jindal would result in Delgado Community College basically taking over the SUNO campus. SUNO would move to the UNO campus. The consolidated university would operate within the University of Louisiana System. Currently, SUNO operates under the Southern University System while UNO falls under the LSU System.
The issue of consolidating SUNO and UNO is controversial to say the least.
Supporters of SUNO, a predominately black university, claim efforts to consolidate SUNO with UNO are racially motivated. They say it's a move to thwart blacks from obtaining a college degree.
Advocates of consolidation say race has nothing to do with it. They point to the enrollment figures at the two universities and their academic performances as solid reasons why SUNO and UNO should merge. Advocates of consolidation also point out that the state must revisit how it spends taxpayer dollars on higher education in light of the scarce resources the state has at its disposal to spend on higher ed.
Regardless of what opponents and proponents of consolidating SUNO and UNO say, the facts speak for themselves. Let's take a look.
• UNO graduated 21 percent of its students in the past six years; SUNO graduated five percent of its students during that same period.
• UNO's enrollment dropped 32 percent following Hurricane Katrina, from 17,000 students then to 11,700 today; SUNO's enrollment fell by 14 percent since Katrina, from 3,500 students in 2005 to 3,100 today.
• UNO's classrooms are full, or in use, some 44 percent of the time during any given semester; SUNO has not updated its information on the use of its classrooms since 2005, but in 2005, SUNO's classrooms were used 46 percent of the time in a given semester.
• UNO's budget tops out at $121.1 million with some $41 million of that budget courtesy of the state general fund; SUNO operates on a $21.9 million budget, while some $8.5 million of that funding concerns state general fund revenues.
Clearly, Louisiana taxpayers are not getting a good return on their investment in SUNO and UNO. The two universities are operating with empty classrooms, and enrollment at the two schools does not justify operating two, separate campuses. Besides, Delgado Community College is growing at a fast clip as an increasing number of young men and women are choosing the community college route before, or if, they move on to a four-year university. To surmise, Delgado needs more classrooms to accommodate a growing enrollment. The SUNO campus would fill that need.
As any reasonable Louisianian knows, the state is operating too many four-year universities. We simply cannot afford to pay for the ones we have unless the people of Louisiana embrace revenue enhancers to provide more money for the state to spend on higher education. In other words, Louisianians must embrace a tax increase to pump more money into higher education for Louisiana to fully fund all of higher ed.
Raising taxes so the state can maintain the status quo in higher education is a non-starter in this corner.
Instead, the House of Representatives should approve the SUNO/UNO merger bill. The Senate should do it, too.
Let's get on with the business of consolidating higher education in Louisiana regardless of which universities may be consolidated next.