That Louisiana has much room for improvement in its education systems doesn’t come as a surprise to Hayride readers, but the governor’s commission to streamline state expenditures has offered a much needed and welcomed solution.
The Advocate (Baton Rouge) is reporting today that the commission is recommending sweeping changes to the way Louisiana’s institutions of higher education are managed. In a nutshell, they are suggesting that Louisiana State University be a free-standing flagship research institution, while all other universities, community colleges, and technical colleges should be administered by a single, comprehensive board.
Duh! This no-brainer has been kicked around the state for years with no progress being made, though it absolutely makes perfect sense. This state is not large enough to justify the multitude of research institutions that we, the taxpayers of Louisiana, are funding. We need a system of community colleges feeding four year colleges, some of which should maintain graduate programs that don’t entail a great deal of research, but we only need one major university. Because of the efforts required to secure research funding, that major university will have unique needs and can justify its own administrative boards, but the others can, and should, be managed by a comprehensive overseer so as to maximize efficiencies and economies of scale while identifying and consolidating redundant programs.
This approach is not unlike that which is being applied in the private sector, and the private sector is still the best business model for government agencies. During good times, businesses do tend to get “fat and lazy,” but when times get tougher, the first place they look to trim the fat is overhead costs and redundant programs. The same principles apply to managing higher education. Redundant boards, redundant programs, and a major university in everybody’s back yard all represent unnecessary excess.
Why does it take the second Great Depression to bring this concept back to the surface? The turf wars that have killed it before have already started, as the Southern University system is crying that they’ll lose their unique, historically black identity under such a system. That is not necessarily so, though, as culturally unique aspects of individual universities would not have to be omitted.
This is an opportunity for Louisiana’s university systems to cut unnecessary administrative costs, identify which schools do what things better, and minimize the severity of funding cuts to academic programs, thus improving the quality of higher education offered in this state despite lower tax revenues and a reduction in available funding overall.