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PAR Recommends Higher Education Reforms

PAR Recommends Higher Education Reforms

Posted: 04/29/2003

Expanding the community and technical college system and upgrading LSU to national competitiveness are among the reforms that would boost higher education’s impact on the Louisiana economy, PAR reports in its “White Paper on Higher Education,” released today.

There is no quick fix for the state’s unorthodox and under-funded higher education system. Rather, solutions require extensive reforms and a continued commitment over many years. The report notes that additional funding will be required, but that the price tag can be greatly reduced if needed restructuring takes place.

“Excellence at every level–from the technical college to the flagship university–should be the goal of higher education in Louisiana if we are ever to maximize its economic development potential,” PAR President Jim Brandt said. “It takes the production of both innovative researchers and skilled workers to attract new business to an area.”

Compared to other southern states, Louisiana enrolls far more of its students in costlier four-year universities than in community and technical colleges. Louisiana has about 76% of its enrollments in four-year institutions compared to the southern average of about 56%. The result: greater cost, nearly the lowest college graduation rates in the South, a poor match with job opportunities and business needs, and a larger-than-necessary higher education funding shortfall. Shifting enrollments from four-year institutions to community and technical colleges would lower the cost of fully funding higher education in the state, allowing for increases in the per-student funding levels at each institution.

The shift can be accomplished by enforcing tougher admission standards at the state’s universities. This would help ensure student and institutional success by enrolling students in institutions that better match their academic preparedness. The resulting expansion of the community and technical college system would better prepare students to transfer to four-year programs or enter the job market. An expanded community and technical college system would also build the state’s capacity to develop a modern workforce capable of meeting the demands of an increasingly global marketplace. About two-thirds of jobs in the future will require more training than high school but less than a four-year college degree.

“Higher education in Louisiana is held back by a tradition of spreading scant resources so thinly that excellence is hampered across the board. Every four-year institution cannot be a research university, and a great deal more of our high school graduates are going to have to enroll in community and technical college programs if we are going to turn this thing around,” Brandt said.

On average, Louisiana institutions receive only 72% of their formula funding targets; however, that funding is distributed inequitably ranging from as low as 59% to as high as 104%. Additionally, those funding targets are based on a formula that fails to account for much of the variation in instructional costs at different academic levels and in different subjects. Refining the funding formula would generate more accurate funding targets for use in estimating the state’s higher education funding gap. And, achieving full funding for all institutions would eliminate the funding inequities currently built into the state’s funding process.

State tuition policy limits the ability of system boards to raise tuition in the absence of adequate state funding. By providing insufficient higher education funding and limiting institutions’ ability to raise needed funds through tuition increases, the Legislature is essentially mandating inadequate levels of funding at many institutions. Similarly, the authority of the Board of Regents is constitutionally limited to the extent that few reforms survive the process of seeking consensus among each of the system boards.

A nationally competitive research university has been a critical element of economic development success stories in other states. Nationally competitive research universities attract hundreds of millions of dollars in federal research grants; create high wage jobs through technology transfer that strengthens industry clusters; keep and attract the best high school graduates; provide research facilities attractive to sophisticated growth companies; and improve the image of their home states.

Louisiana’s flagship university, LSU, is not a national leader and trails well behind the leading institutions in the South by most quality measures. Quality is strongly linked with funding, and LSU is only appropriated around 65% of its current funding target, which itself is set far below what would be necessary to propel the University to a nationally competitive level. Gradual funding increases and a commitment to quality could raise the University to a level of regional prominence within 5-7 years and national competitiveness in 15 years.

“We are extremely late in developing a community college system, and we have allowed our flagship to languish at inadequate funding levels,” Brandt said. “The further behind we fall the more expensive the catch-up will be.”

With optimum restructuring of enrollments, redesign of governance responsibilities and moderate increases in state funding phased in over 10 years, Louisiana could maximize the potential of higher education to promote the state’s economic development. The recommendations in the “White Paper on Higher Education” are designed to more efficiently target Louisiana’s higher education spending, achieve full funding for each institution (based on refined funding targets and enrollment levels, as well as new state funding), and upgrade LSU to the level of a nationally prominent flagship university.

“Recognizing the state’s current fiscal problems, it is important to note that a number of these reforms won’t require additional funding and could be implemented in the short term,” Brandt said. “There is no excuse for inaction or delay.”

PAR Recommendations

Gradually restructure the overall enrollment mix from 76%/24% (four-year institutions vs. two-year institutions) to 60%/40% (closer to the southern average).
Constitutionally grant the Board of Regents the authority necessary to develop and enforce a comprehensive design for public postsecondary education.
Develop a new master plan for higher education that responds to state needs, job trends and student demand; mandates admission standards that will ensure high rates of student success; drives accountability by articulating institution-specific goals; and establishes specific role, scope and mission statements for each institution.
Include in the enrollment counts for the funding formula only students admitted according to the Master Plan’s admission standards framework.
Return control of tuition rates to Louisiana’s higher education management boards, with the caveat that tuition increases shall require legislative approval once an institution achieves the average tuition levels of its Southern Regional Education Board peer institutions.
Refine the existing approach for developing institutional funding targets by better incorporating the cost differences of varying academic disciplines and course levels.
Commit to making LSU nationally competitive over the span of a 15-year period, largely by providing total funding per student (state contribution plus tuition) comparable to the country’s leading public research universities.

This is the first report in PAR’s four-part white paper series to inform the issue debates of the 2003 gubernatorial and legislative campaigns. The white papers will address the topics of higher education, state finance, K-12 education and, governmental ethics/constitutional revision.

PAR members will receive a free copy of the “White Paper on Higher Education.” Others may order copies for $3.50 each by writing PAR at P.O. Box 14776, Baton Rouge, LA, 70898-4776, or by calling (225) 926-8414. Special pricing is available for bulk orders. The report may also be viewed on PAR’s Web Site atwww.la-par.org.
For More Information Contact:
Jim Brandt – President
225 926-8414 (ext. 21)

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