• August 28, 2015

To Save Money, Louisiana Seeks to Balance 2- and 4-Year Colleges

To Save Money, Louisiana Seeks to Balance 2- and 4-Year Colleges 1

Jackson Hill for The Chronicle

Joe D. May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College system, wants the state to channel more students into the two-year colleges, an idea criticized by leaders of public universities.

Among the proposed improvements in states' higher-education systems this year, Louisiana's may seem the most counterintuitive: Send far fewer students to four-year colleges.

Directing more people to community and technical colleges, say some elected officials and business leaders, would build a better work force by ensuring that more students graduate with usable skills and at a price that fits the state's budget.

As legislatures across the country convene this month for what promises to be a difficult budget year, many will consider major policy changes, acknowledging the reality that public colleges can no longer afford to be all things to all people. But no state's proposals may be bolder than those being considered in Louisiana.

Policy makers there say the state's economic future depends less on creating the next Research Triangle or Silicon Valley than on repositioning state colleges to better meet the needs of established industries there, including shipbuilders and oil-and-gas companies.

While the state has completed other strategic plans in recent years, reversing the impacts of Hurricane Katrina and the current economic downturn will require higher education to make "changes beyond anything we've seen before," says David A. Longanecker, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education and a member of a panel of state and national leaders assembled to recommend new policies for Louisiana.

Though there is widespread agreement in the state on the need for change, there is much less consensus about what new policies should be adopted. Several proposals that are expected to be on the table may generate controversy: higher tuition and tougher admissions standards at public four-year institutions; further consolidating, or eliminating, academic programs at both two-year and four-year colleges; and changing the four management boards that oversee public colleges' operations.

And the entire process runs the risk of pitting four-year colleges against two-year colleges in an endless fight over state tax support. The legislatively commissioned panel, called the Postsecondary Education Review Commission, is considering policies to recommend to the Board of Regents, the coordinating and policy-making body for 19 public colleges, universities, and professional schools in Louisiana, and the Legislature, which will begin its annual session in March.

Regardless of what the commission recommends, public colleges need to come to terms with the need for major changes in how they operate, says Sally Clausen, Louisiana's commissioner of higher education. "We have to recognize that higher education will soon be forever changed in the way it delivers its services to students," she said. "Our need to change is real with or without this recession."

Too Many Dropouts

The impetus for overhauling higher education in Louisiana, as it is in states across the country, is to encourage economic development by preparing a well-educated populace to fill existing jobs, create companies, and attract employers. Those goals have become more difficult as state governments try to recover from the current recession and have less money to support higher education.

But Louisiana's higher-education system is not producing enough college graduates, or in the right fields, to meet employers' needs and to spur economic activity, say state elected officials and business leaders. In part, they argue, that's because too many students are attending four-year colleges, which aren't doing a good enough job of getting students to graduate. Nearly 75 percent of college students in the state are enrolled at four-year institutions, compared with about 50 percent nationwide.

In addition, Louisiana pays as much as $5,200 a year for each student in a public research university, more than triple what it provides for a student in a two-year college, according to figures from the nonprofit Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability.

The six-year graduation rate at Louisiana's four-year institutions is a little more than 42 percent, 14 points lower than the national average. The state has the third-lowest percentage of adults, ages 25 and older, with bachelor's degrees or higher, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The dropout rate is high because many students are unprepared for the academic rigors of college, says Sean Reilly, past chairman of Blueprint Louisiana, a nonpartisan group of business and community leaders that supports policy changes to increase enrollment at two-year colleges. When students drop out, he adds, they are often saddled with debt and without the degrees or skills to get good jobs.

The solution, says Mr. Reilly, an advertising executive in Baton Rouge, La., is to significantly increase enrollment at the state's 10-year-old system of community and technical colleges. "It's clear to me that some people will succeed better at a two-year institution."

The goal of increasing enrollment at community and technical colleges has also been taken up by some of the state's top officials, including Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican. He told the review commission that the state would need an estimated 35,000 workers to fill new jobs each year for the next decade, most of which will require more than a high-school diploma and less than a bachelor's degree.

"In short, we need to make sure that educational attainment is in line with the economic-development needs of our state," Mr. Jindal said in August at the opening meeting of the commission, which is taking a broad look at the governance and operations of Louisiana's higher-education system.

Joe D. May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College system, says his colleges are already communicating with businesses about their needs. "We work closely with the state's employers, and from a business perspective they continue to raise their voices for qualified technicians, welders, machinists, and nurses," he says.

The review commission has released initial recommendations that could result in increased enrollment at two-year colleges. Those include raising admissions standards at public four-year colleges to try to improve graduation rates. For the class that will enter college in 2012, the commission has suggested graduation-rate goals of 50 percent to 75 percent, depending on the institution.

It can't be assumed that all of the students who are rejected by four-year colleges will simply choose a community or technical college, says Mr. May. He would like the state to help high schools provide more college advising.

Tuition Authority

As Louisiana and other states continue to deal with unprecedented shortfalls in tax revenue, lawmakers are looking to higher education to bolster economic activity, but with less public money, and to account for every dollar they receive.

Louisiana's economy has traditionally been buoyed by its oil and natural-gas industries. State appropriations for higher education doubled between the 1999 and 2009 fiscal years, the third-greatest increase among the states for that period.

But the economic downturn has taken its toll on state-tax coffers, and the Legislature had to close a $1.8-billion budget gap for the current fiscal year. As a result, Louisiana's higher-education appropriations were cut by 14 percent, according to a national study by the University of Washington's office of planning and budgeting.

The cuts have prompted public-college leaders to press for authority to raise tuition, which averages $4,290 for public four-year colleges, the second-lowest such fee in the nation, according to the College Board. Louisiana is the only state where a tuition increase requires a two-thirds majority vote by the Legislature, and lawmakers have been reluctant either to give up that power or to take the political risk of approving increases themselves.

State House Speaker Jim Tucker, a Republican, says lawmakers may be persuaded to cede some tuition authority with the argument that students who will earn higher salaries with college degrees should shoulder more of the cost of that credential. "If you're going to get the benefit out of it, you should pay for it," he says.

One possible solution, he says, is to allow public colleges to raise tuition to the regional average over a two- or three-year period, but requiring institutions to get legislative approval if they want to raise rates higher than that.

E. Joseph Savoie, president of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, says the state's higher-education system cannot continue to provide a high-quality education without being able to increase tuition to offset cuts in state appropriations. The state should increase money for need-based financial aid, he adds.

To encourage colleges to improve their graduation rates, Governor Jindal told the review commission, the state's performance-based financing formula should be strengthened so that institutions are paid more on the basis of the number of students they graduate than on the number they enroll. The current performance-based formula awards one-third of appropriations to institutions based on eight factors, including credit hours earned in certain disciplines, the number of work-force-development programs, and improvements in degree completion.

"We've taken steps to improve the way we fund colleges and universities with a new formula," the governor said. "Nobody agrees that the formula is perfect, and there can definitely be improvements."

Most of the money in the formula is still determined by an institution's size and enrollment. The review commission has recommended that more dollars be based on actual graduation rates and the amount of time it takes students to complete their degrees.

No Easy Changes

The state's higher-education officials, for their part, do not agree on the best solutions for Louisiana's college-related problems.

Leaders of public universities question the wisdom of pushing many more students into the technical and community colleges. Those institutions, too, have low completion rates: on average, less than 14 percent of their students complete their programs after three years.

"If the goal is for people to finish, the two-year system is not where you want [students] to be," says John V. Lombardi, president of the Louisiana State University system. "Conspiracy theorists believe" that moving more students to the two-year colleges "is a way to starve the four-year system."

Susan E. Krantz, dean of the liberal arts at the University of New Orleans, says that if too few students are prepared for university-level work, the solution is to improve their elementary and secondary education, not to send fewer to universities. "The argument that there are too many students in four-year institutions indicates that the priorities of the state are damaging to higher learning," she says.

Mr. May, of the community and technical-college system, says the goals of the proposed changes are not to decrease support for the four-year system but rather to clarify the missions of both systems. "We still have a number of four-year colleges offering associate degrees," he says. "I think this is a prime time to let those go, along with developmental education."

Mr. Lombardi and others also question the ability of the review commission, the regents, and the Legislature to craft solutions. The commission has no real authority to change policy, and lawmakers may write legislation to meet their political aspirations rather than the overall needs of the state.

"The notion that the commission would be able to come up with a comprehensive plan for the reorganization of higher education in Louisiana is a utopian vision," Mr. Lombardi says.

Mr. Tucker, the House speaker, acknowledges that individual lawmakers may be tempted to protect the interests of their districts, especially over questions of closing or consolidating campuses and academic programs. But concerns about what legislators might do could also be an incentive for institutions to make those decisions for themselves instead of stalling for time, he says.

"In the past, we didn't have the economic pressure we have today, and the systems could flat outwait the Legislature," he says. "That can't work this time. We have to make the changes and focus on the goals. Otherwise we're just talking about straight budget cuts."


1. protevi - January 11, 2010 at 09:36 am

No discussion of Louisiana revenue makes sense without discussing the 2008 destruction of the 2002 Stelly Plan, which lowered sales taxes in exchange for raised marginal tax rates in the highest brackets (and some complicated exchange in which Fed taxes were no longer deductible from LA taxable income). Not only did the destruction of the Stelly Plan produce a shortfall in absolute dollars, it rendered the state more vulnerable to recession effects, as sales tax revenue is much more volatile than income tax revenue. So the whole "downturn" in state revenue was created by the very same Jindal administration and its cronies in the Legislature that now use it as an excuse to further its neoliberal agenda of the defunding of any and all state agencies. Link to 2008 article on the destruction of the Stelly Plan: http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2008/06/house_votes_to_roll_back_stell.html

2. intered - January 11, 2010 at 11:29 am

Two more ways that money can be saved not only by the schools but by students, parents, employers (who are reimbursing tuition), and taxpayers:

(a) Wherever possible, replace four year degrees (that creep into five, six, or more years) with three-year degrees:


(b) Eliminate tuition assistance (student loans, scholarships, etc.) when matriculation exceeds the established time-to-degree.

(c) Eliminate degree programs created solely to satisfy specialized faculty interests but for which there are no careers and whose few students are those who declared the major because faculty talked them into it.

Robert W Tucker
InterEd, Inc.

3. 11313934 - January 12, 2010 at 07:34 am

I wonder what percentage of credit hours in two-year and four-year institutions is taught by adjuncts versus full-time faculty? Since 85% or more of the budget of an academic institution is personnel, there might be a considerable financial gain in downsizing the universities, especially if the goal is training tech-savvy routabouts versus research biologists. It makes sense to shrink the ranks of the full-time tenured professoriat if the goal is job training. PJTramdack

4. demery1 - January 12, 2010 at 09:30 am

So the proposal would allow a state with per student public school funding in the bottom quarter to cut funding to 4 year programs because students drop out?

That funding would go to two year institutions with lower admission standards, lower completion rates, and higher rates of default on student loans?

That sounds penny wise to me!

If students are academically underprepared or financially unable to persist at four year schools, the obvious solution would be to investigate and improve retention.

When the economy turns south, is it really a good time to train more low to moderate skilled workers and abandon bacceloriate and professional programs?

5. tridaddy - January 12, 2010 at 09:47 am

Downsizing is occurring. Its painful and no walk in the park. Courses are being cut and both classified and unclassified staff are being laid off. I've never been more frustrated with education. There is plenty of blame to go around, but this idea that a university has to be everything to everyone is simply a misperception. In addition, institutions take on the mindset of "keeping up with the Joneses", which has bloated O&M budgets with no support from the state. I would have to foreclose on my home and declare bankruptcy if operated like that. In addition, operational changes to ensure effectiveness and efficiency occur at glacial speed. As I noted previously, there is plenty of blame to go around. I speak with some knowledge, having three decades in university education with 12 in upper administration.

6. velvis - January 12, 2010 at 11:05 am

Being in Louisiana this presents a rather interesting picture of my University.

Not every student who earns TOPS (which is the program that allows decent students who graduate from Louisiana's high schools to attend college practically for free) needs to go to college but could do fabulous at a trade school.

In the rural parts of the state, where I currently reside, there is NO public transportation.

Please tell me why a student who is mechanically inclined rather than go to a trade school and become a mechanic to fix the cars that everyone has, must go to a 4 year school.

If you are a farmer - instead of learning by trial and error on the farm with $100,000 machines and crops that are supposed to provide not only your family with money but a country with food - why wouldn't a basic 2 year education help you out?

Most of these students can't see beyond the rural life they have. If you can succeed with out having to go into copious amounts of debt by going into a 4 year program that doesn't interest you or apply to what you want, why wouldn't you?

While I read the Chronicle of Higher Ed, I think we forget that all of the books on organic chem or astro physics or the cannon of lit isn't going to make getting food easier if no one is on the farm nor do they help us while we're stuck on the side of the road, but the guys who learned a trade and participated in "Lower Ed" do.

7. swish - January 12, 2010 at 11:08 am

Can someone (Mr. Tucker, perhaps) explain the big deal about "time to degree"? If a student needs to work to support a family and ends up graduating in 6, 8, or even 10 years, how does that hurt anyone? Even if the student is not working, but stopping out, skipping semesters, or just taking fewer credits? As long as they're doing well, learning, and improving their job preparedness, what's wrong with letting students move at their own pace?

If the providers of loans or financial aid packages want a fixed time period, they're certainly free to do that, but I don't see the sense in it. If support were based on coursework undertaken -- dollars per credit hour -- then it shouldn't matter how long a student takes to complete a degree.

Tell me how I've got it all wrong.

8. _perplexed_ - January 12, 2010 at 12:16 pm

How to undermine the pursuit of excellence: "...the state's performance-based financing formula should be strengthened so that institutions are paid more on the basis of the number of students they graduate than on the number they enroll."

9. intered - January 12, 2010 at 12:34 pm

To Swish (post #7):

You don't have it all wrong. There are students for whom the contingencies as you describe them are accurate and acceptable. The problem is that this situation describes a small number of students whereas time-to-degree is a materially significant consideration for a much larger proportion of the student body. Following are a few examples pertaining to the monetary value of time:

(a) For students who are not working or are working in non-career track positions to help defray college expenses, students loans are necessary for more than tuition expenses. They are required for living expenses. The longer the time-to-degree, the larger the student loan that must eventually be paid back. Average student loan balances at graduation have grown by more than 50% in the past decade and the rate of growth is increasing. It would take an article to outline the consequences of this mounting debt. One highly significant consequence is that crushing debt at graduation is keeping many young entrepreneurs from starting businesses. Of course, small business is where all the new jobs and is the primary source of economic stability and vitality. Large employers seldom create net jobs and, when they fail, they take the nation down with them.

(b) Almost half of the nation's college are working adults (i.e., already in career track positions). For many of these students, employers have time caps on tuition reimbursement. Even if the limit is a dollar cap, the fact that annual increases in tuition outstrip the CPI or GDP by a factor of 2-3 means that education delayed is an education that is more costly.

(c) The working adult portion of the student population (again, let's try someday to get it in our head that the 17 year old who still needs some supervision is approaching minority status in university education), has chosen to secure a specific degree to meet a specific professional goal. Often, this professional goal will have dollars, advancement, and job security attached to it. Teachers are often paid more when they earn an MEd. Business professionals secure a new position within their company at higher pay when they earn their MBA. And so on . . . One would be conservative in assuming that a 10 year delay in earning a degree might mean lost aggregate income of a quarter to a half million dollars, perhaps a little less for our underpaid K-12 teachers.

(d) Then there is the matter of university costs and net costs to the student, irrespective of the monetary value of time. Take a close look at this University of Southern New Hampshire 3-year degree, as described by Professor Seidman.


I have no reason to doubt Seidman's claim that the degree saves the student 25% net in purchase costs, and the university 25% net in delivery costs. In fact, the degree is sound on a number of fronts including the fact that it is among the few that incorporate the findings of modern learning sciences.

Yes, there are a few isolated and small group cases where time-to-degree is largely irrelevant to the student's life plan. Even for these groups, time protracted causes net costs increased.

Robert W Tucker
InterEd, Inc.

10. bfrank1 - January 12, 2010 at 03:51 pm

I can't decide whether to quote All the King's Men or Confederacy of Dunces. Maybe Louisiana should pay good students with college ambitions to go somewhere else to school, and just close the Universities altogether - judging from these proposals, the numbers would be low, and the potential savings immense. Just keep the football teams and turn the rest of the campuses into casinos. Who cares about the rest of that stuff, anyway?

11. jffoster - January 13, 2010 at 08:35 am

Eh bien,
Louisian has too many 4 year colleges. They had LSU with small branches at Alexandria and Eunice, the latter not all that far from Alexandria, a later, newer field at New Orleans (LSUNO > University of N O b but is still in the LSU system), and of course the main Field at Baton Rouge. Then they had the regional, with two exceptions largely former "State Teachers' Colleges". NE State, Northwestern Louisiana State, &c. The exceptions were Lousiana Tech at Ruston and University of Southwest Lousiana at Lafayette, not all that far from Baton Rouge and LSU but further when it was just US 90 and not I 10 and USL served a somewhat different populace.
In addition there was the Southern University system, a relic of the days of segregation.

So like many States, they changed the names of the regionals to get rid of the "teachers'" stigma, and changed from "college" to "university". Unfortunately, they then started to try to act like they though universities acted.

The reorganization some years left Southern U largely alone though expanding its list of Fields. They left the LSU System largely alone--the main expansion was actually overdue -- there is now a sprawling, large, and nice Field at Shreveport. Shreveport being a large population center and at the other end of the State Hypotenuse, it actually made sense to have an LSU branch at Shreveport. Whether it makes equal sense to have LSU Shreveport AND Southern U Shreveport is another matter.

But the regionals, now called universities, were grouped together as the University of Louisiana. The name will eventually bite them because East Coast snobs tend to think that anything with the name "State" in it is inferior and will assume "University of Louisiana" is the real university and LSU is not. And then the LSU System and the University of Louisiana System, and the Southern System and the 2 year junior and techincal colleges were all placed under a HyperBoard of Regents.

Soo. you have LSU System with a number of campuses (we said "Field" at LSU), the Southern U system, the "University of Louisiana" System, and then the two years. Folks, that's too many "universities" for a state of that size and population. And highways are better than they used to be -- Munroe (Northeastern S College, now U of La at Munroe) with I 20 now aint all that far from Shreveport.) Oui, Ruston is even closer to Munroe and to Shreveport, but La Tech kept its name and has a history of particularly good programs in its area, and also attracts good students from South Arkansas.

So Louisiana has a proliferation of colleges trying to be "universities", and to complicate matters, LSU Baton Rouge is embarked at flank speed into the Flagship Prestige Pursuit. I am not sure that is not the best tack; Louisiana has long rightly seen her welfare and economy tied to LSU in a way that many other states may not be as tied to their major landgrant (and also Sea Grant) university.

So the Commission has their work cut out for them but la belle Louisiane cannot continue long on the lots of 4 year colleges course they are now steering. And those who have suggested that this is simply about Louisiana people and politicians not valuing anything but football are underinformed.

12. splandry - January 13, 2010 at 10:37 am

Ah, with the retro economics welded by Alex Keaton (remember Family Ties) aka Boddy Jindal guiding state policy, why should we worry?! Jindal's aforementioned goals are self-serving in 2 ways. He *wants* to create a less educated demographic as those are the folks who will typically vote for him and *thinks* he's the smartest guy in the room (and so wouldn't mind driving out his competition). We'll be farther and farther behind with such policies. But he'll be in the White House by then, right?

We have a few key problems which could be solve with a balanced, non-ideological approach. Most of the above suggestions seem correct and can fit together into a coherent plan.

1) Improve the quality of K-12 education. Conduct testing using national, not local, dumbed-down models. How does it help us to lie to ourselves about how bad things really are here?
2) Raise taxes to better fund education. Homes in the suburbs are better maintained than any state facility. The people of the state should be ashamed for allowing this to happen...if they only knew how trashy we look to outsiders.
3) Change state policy to allow for sharing the burden of economic set backs. Why should health care and higher ed. absorb all the cuts? Really, it's long overdue. It's a crime that folks here are so self-focused that they cannot see how personal greed (and that means you...K-12 teachers, police and fire, etc.) is causing social chaos.
2) Do direct some students to 2 year colleges. Close some of these campuses as there are too many in New Orleans alone. Do not grow them. These schools should be charged with associate-level technical education (phy. asst., machining, clerical).
3) Close some of the redundant 4 year extensions (see the comment above for examples) and better support the remaining key 4 year colleges. In the age of the internet, students don't need a campus in their backyard to attend college. Going to college is supposed be an effort, not a convenience. Make the quality of education at these schools even better.
4) Turn LSU into a truly *elite* university. It is an economic powerhouse for the state and can better take us into the technologically demanding future. Raise tuition, raise standards, raise the amount of money she gets per student to attract better faculty and provide and enriched educational experience. If the citizens of the state only love her for her football they can still go to the games. Take away admission as a birthright.

The BR/NOLA area needs be more like Houston or Atlanta than a shanty-town serving an oil rig, and the rest of the state needs to be lifted up as well. That is the best possible future for the state whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not.

Fellas, forget the formulas! Have a vision...a vision that attends to today and tomorrow!

13. bfrank1 - January 13, 2010 at 11:12 am

And how did Louisiana get so many rinky-dink "fields" in the first place? Could it be the fabled Lousiana legislature, padding their political opportunities with construction projects that then require eternal state payrolls for physical plant, tech support, maintenance, and oh yeah - some teachers, but not too many teachers, so as not to upset the apple cart? And who are these legislators, if not Louisiana people fabled for being underinformed and not valuing anything but football?
Let's recall the famous story about the time when the legislature was debating whether to fund expansion of the the LSU library or the football stadium, and the star quarterback was invited to testify, wherupon he said he hardly ever went to the library, but he was in the stadium all the time. Sold. I believe the library expansion waited another 20 years. This story may not even be true, but it was told by everyone as if it were, with a wink and a nudge, so there you have it.
Oh, and what logic dictates that the roads are bad so you have to open new universities in such a relatively small state? Do roads just rise out of the swamp and you have to wait for them?
Control of higher education is too important in Louisiana for anyone but the legislature to have the invisible hand, so if the system is a mess, follow the money right down to the chambers for the answers - but be prepared to pay for anything you get.

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