UPDATED: SUNO Is The Worst College In America, And You’re Paying For It

We’ve screamed ad nauseam about how Louisiana is overbuilt in higher education and is wasting tax dollars we can’t afford to waste on needless, poor-performing four-year campuses.

It’s also patently obvious which one of the 14 four-year schools the state funds most needs to go. That would be Southern University at New Orleans.

SUNO, our readers will remember, was targeted for elimination of sorts by the Jindal administration in last year’s legislative session – but survived attempts to merge it with the University of New Orleans. We commended Gov. Bobby Jindal for taking on that fight, though a merger with UNO might have been a tactical mistake to lead with – Jindal might have achieved that merger had he opened with a proposal to shut down SUNO altogether.

At the time there was a debate about SUNO’s six-year graduation rate, which was reported at somewhere between five percent and eight percent – by far the lowest among a roster of public four-year colleges in Louisiana with a combined nothing-to-brag-about 38 percent graduation rate.

Well, today the Fiscal Times put out a story detailing a Harvard study of six-year graduation rates which pegs SUNO at FOUR PERCENT. And that affords the school the designation of the worst-performing four-year college in the United States of America.

The stats on SUNO designated in the study…

  • Graduation rate: 4%
  • Undergraduates: 2,590
  • Pell grant recipients: 75.8%
  • In-state tuition and fees: $3,906
  • Acceptance rate: 48.4%

The FY 2013 budget in Louisiana (page 215)  pegs SUNO’s funding at $11.676 million. Divided by 2,590 students that’s $4,508 per student. Add $3,906 per year in tuition and we’re talking about $8,400 per year being absolutely wasted by taxpayers and students on keeping open the worst four-year university in America.

Last year’s budget for SUNO (page 192) was $12.1 million, so at least the state is moving in the right direction toward the refusal to spend taxpayer money on a failed institution. Except that in February, Jindal dedicated the $3.3 million College of Business Administration at SUNO – which represents an expansion of a school which has already failed to deliver quality education within its current mission.

But when Louisiana clearly doesn’t have the revenues to support all of the infrastructure it has, shouldn’t the Legislature have taken steps to shed those institutions which are clearly a waste of our money? And isn’t the worst four-year university in America a good example?

UPDATE: SUNO Chancellor Victor Ukpolo responds…

The information provided this week in an article in the Greater Baton Rouge Business report which cites an MSN.com report on national graduation data is missing some essential information. We do not dispute that by the national standard Southern University at New Orleans has a low graduation rate, but when you factor in the impact of the hurricanes of 2005 our graduation rate is actually 22%.

SUNO has seen just how dramatic an impact the storms had on the Freshman cohort of Fall 2004. Of the 373 students who entered our University as first time freshmen that year, only 68 resumed their studies in 2006. Of those 68, 15 went on to complete their degrees within the six-year window yielding a graduation rate of 22%. We believe that this number is more reflective of our achievements. Additionally, the Louisiana Board of Regents has already granted universities impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita an exemption from graduation rate reporting for the Fall 2005 cohort. This means that next year, the official graduation rate that will be attributed to SUNO and every other state institution in the impacted areas will be 0%.

It is extremely important to evaluate the university with these previously mentioned factors under consideration when reporting our graduation rate. Similarly, in 2010, Washington Monthly published its own annual rankings. After a meeting with their editors, the magazine issued a clarification of our scores on its website factoring in the hurricanes and their devastation.

Today, Southern University at New Orleans continues to work to strengthen its retention efforts and improve its graduation rates. In 2010, SUNO transitioned from an open admissions institution to one with selective admissions criteria. We believe that this will help the University in attracting and retaining students who are better prepared for success at the collegiate level. Our mission has been predicated on creating access for students in the New Orleans metro area and to that end we have intensified our efforts to work with our feeder high schools through Mathematics and English tutorials as well as ACT test-taking skills training.

SUNO will continue to seek out any and all avenues that will lead to greater success for its students. That is our commitment and one we do not take lightly.

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