LA legislator: Higher ed leaders are inflexible, defending an ineffective system

State senator says the Board of Regents has failed students by maintaining the "status quo"

A conservative Louisiana legislator called on the Board of Regents to implement "a strong plan of organization reform" and warned that it could lose support for additional funding if it does not enact such a plan, Rebekah Allen reports for The Advocate

Background

Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has opened a special session to address the $943 million shortfall in Louisiana's current budget year. 

How big funding cuts in Louisiana affected students

National surveys show that Louisiana has slashed higher education funding more than any other state since the recession took effect, with state aid to universities cut by 55%. Severe budget cuts have forced public colleges and universities in Louisiana to increase tuition and enact other measures to recoup decreased funding.

The state's public colleges and universities say they will be forced to suspend classes immediately if more funding for higher education is not obtained by June 30.

Appel slams Board of Regents

In a Jan. 31 letter to Higher Education Commissioner Joseph Rallo, state Sen. Conrad Appel (R) called on the Board of Regents to implement "a strong plan of organization reform," and warned that it could lose support for additional funding if it does not enact such a plan.

Appel, who is the former chair of the state Senate's education committee, wrote, "The higher education community justifiably demands more support, but at the same time, it fails to realize that it has a fiduciary responsibility to not just 'circle the wagons' in order to defend what no one honestly believes is an efficient or effective system."

He said the board is preserving the "status quo," with student interests taking a back seat to "what is best for those operating within the individual institutions or systems."

Other conservative state lawmakers have expressed similar disapproval toward Louisiana's higher education leaders.

Rallo responds to criticism

Rallo rejected Appel's claims, arguing that higher education leaders continue to review and refine programs and eliminate unnecessary ones for the greatest efficiency. However, he says the Legislature has the power to take on meaningful reform, noting a failed proposal to merge Southern University at New Orleans and the University of New Orleans.

"We've laid out all sorts of ideas with respect to consolidation and mergers and sadly were unable to go forward with them," Rallo says. "The legislative process stood in the way."

Further, he notes, the Legislature controls tuition hikes of more than 10%, while most states grant individual institutions authority on tuition decisions.  

In response to claims of inefficiency, Rallo says higher education has lost more than 5,000 positions over the past five years, making it "leaner from a business perspective."

According to Rallo, the board is updating its 2011 master plan, which will address a number of the issues brought up by Appel (Allen, Advocate, 2/16).

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