Can a state have too many universities?

Louisiana legislators say shuttering some campuses could save money

Some policymakers argue that an abundance of higher education institutions in Louisiana is a redundancy that the state cannot afford to fund, Elizabeth Crisp reports for The Advocate.

But critics express concern that mergers could hurt educational access and the communities surrounding closed schools.

Considering Consolidation

Merger supporters note that Louisiana has 14 public four-year schools, compared with Florida's 12, despite having less than a quarter of its population. As a result, Louisiana has four universities with 10,000 students or more, while four others have fewer than 5,000 students. In northeast Louisiana, which has a population of about 350,000 residents, there are three public universities. 

Merger supporters also point out that multiple schools offer similar degrees and programs and multiple administrators do similar jobs across campuses—all of which could be streamlined if schools were combined.

Merging might affect access, attainment

Some policymakers fear that shuttering campuses could restrict access to education at a time when Louisiana already struggles to mobilize a strong workforce. There are also concerns that closing campuses would hurt the economies of the communities where they are located.

Others, such as state Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Rallo, believe that closing campuses could hurt the state's goal of raising average educational attainment. Rallo also notes that many campuses currently hold debt on buildings that is consistently paid off through revenue brought in by students.

Streamlining without mergers an option

Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, says university administrators could be doing more to reduce redundancy.

"Four-year schools bear part of the responsibility for the (fiscal) situation we're in," Scott argues. He points to institutional silos, reluctance to merge schools in the same region, and a lack of centralized administration.

"There are a lot of things they could do to make their operations more efficient, and they're not doing them," Scott argues (Crisp, The Advocate, 1/23).

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