It’s been obvious for some time that something needed to be done about Southern University’s New Orleans campus and its 6 percent six-year graduation rate, but no one really believed any of Louisiana’s politicians had the sand to take the issue on.
But today, in an irony of all ironies, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal – who has been under fire by many for a perceived lack of political courage in attacking a $1.6 billion budget deficit – stepped forward to suggest that SUNO be merged with the University of New Orleans, with the resulting institution put into the University of Louisiana system.
Jindal’s release on the suggestion provides details…
The analysis would be included as part of a study that Regents is already authorized to conduct by legislation passed last year by Senator Conrad Appel and former Senator Ann Duplessis which directed BOR to look at the regional coordination, maximization of resources, and quality of postsecondary offerings in the New Orleans area. The legislation included a March 1, 2011 deadline for the Board of Regents to complete the study.
Governor Jindal said, “Our goal is to provide the best service to students. That is why I have asked the Board of Regents to study whether students can be better served by a merger of SUNO and UNO and facilitating a greater partnership with Delgado. Both UNO and SUNO, which are just blocks apart, are under-enrolled and have empty classrooms, while Delgado is struggling to meet the needs of the community with its limited space. We look forward to receiving the results of this study and implementing their study recommendations through legislation in the upcoming session. We will work with legislators to ensure that any savings from streamlining these schools to improve student outcomes will be retained by higher education.
“It is important that this study remain an objective analysis, driven by facts and data, predicated on the best interests of students. We will wait until we receive the completed study before formulating or recommending any legislative proposals for the upcoming session.”
Tony Clayton, former Chairman of Southern University, New Orleans, and current member of the Southern University Board of Supervisors said, “I understand and fully appreciate the bold initiatives that the Governor is taking to address the higher educational needs of the New Orleans area. We will take this bold study and fully vet it to make sure the needs of African Americans students are addressed.”
Currently, UNO graduates 21 percent of its students in six years, while SUNO graduates five percent of its students during that time. Additionally, UNO’s enrollment has dropped by 32 percent since 2005 – from over 17,000 students to 11,700 today. SUNO’s enrollment has decreased by 14 percent since 2005 – from 3,500 students to 3,100 today. By comparison, Delgado’s enrollment has grown without the physical space needed to expand.
While all three schools have buildings that remain out of use due to hurricane damage, UNO’s remaining classrooms are full 44 percent of the time. SUNO has not updated this data since before the 2005 storms, but at that time, the school’s classrooms were in use 46 percent of the time – far less than Delgado’s classrooms, which were used 84 percent of the time.
Don’t misunderstand the significance of Jindal’s request. Constitutionally, he can’t demand a merger without first getting a feasibility study out of the Regents. Instituting that study is a bombshell.
SUNO’s 2009-10 Annual Report indicates its budget is $40.3 million, and it cannot even produce a statistic on its classroom usage – a statistic a student worker can generate with Microsoft Excel and a course catalog. That $40.3 million for 3,100 students comes to a staggering $13,000 in per-student cost per year; average tuition at SUNO is about $1,760, which means taxpayers of one stripe or another are subsidizing over $11,000 in student costs at a school which graduates between five and six percent of its students in six years.
There is no possible argument to be made for continuing such a failed and wasteful enterprise. And yet SUNO has been perpetuated by spineless politicians for decades.
We’ve been critical of the governor on several bases of late. But today’s announcement was a major step forward in producing fiscal discipline for Louisiana. Some $40 million in savings by rolling SUNO into UNO won’t solve the $1.6 billion budget hole, but it does indicate that perhaps Jindal does have the courage to attack at least the low-hanging fruit in state government.
And he deserves support for that.