College commission calls for governance change

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 5, 2010

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana should merge the governing boards for all four-year public colleges and put all two-year campuses under the control of the community college system, a panel of higher education experts suggested Thursday.

The Postsecondary Education Review Commission, charged by state lawmakers with recommending ways to improve higher education in Louisiana, was split on the controversial governance proposal, approving it in a 5-4 vote.

The recommendation was approved in the final two-day meeting of the panel that wraps up its report Friday.

Email newsletter signup

The proposal calls for the merger of the governing boards for all four-year schools in the LSU System, the University of Louisiana System and the Southern University System. The community and technical college system would maintain a separate board and take over management of LSU at Eunice and Southern University at Shreveport, both two-year colleges.

Such a change would require an amendment to the Louisiana Constitution. That’s a steep hurdle because a constitutional change needs support from two-thirds of lawmakers and a majority of voters to pass.

Supporters of consolidation said it could reduce duplication of programs and missions on campuses and cut employee, travel and other costs. They did not, however, have estimates of the savings.

Opponent Lezli Baskerville, a commission member and president of the National Association For Equal Opportunity, said the recommendation seemed rushed.

‘‘We have no sense of what the impact will be,’’ she said. ‘‘We have no idea what the cost savings would be.’’

Other opponents wanted a three board system instead: one for four-year schools, one for community and technical colleges and the Board of Regents to oversee both.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has said he supports merging the higher education management boards. LSU System President John Lombardi has criticized such a move, saying that ‘‘reorganizing the way people sit around the table’’ wouldn’t significantly cut costs.

The commission’s vote Thursday replaced a previous recommendation that college governance be restructured if schools didn’t make ‘‘significant progress’’ in their graduation rates by the end of the 2013-14 budget year.

Among the other recommendations approved so far, the commission has suggested that lawmakers should relinquish much of their authority over tuition increases, allowing schools to raise tuition without approval from lawmakers if the campuses improve their graduation rates.

The commission also suggested the formula that divides state funding among campuses should be revamped and admission standards should be tougher at the state’s four-year public universities to try to boost graduation rates.

Commission members said the current system for divvying up state higher education dollars was based too heavily on student enrollment and colleges were stymied to help themselves because of restrictions on tuition increases. Louisiana is the only state that requires a two-thirds vote of the state Legislature for a tuition increase.

The commission’s report on ways to restructure higher education and cut costs is due to the Board of Regents by Feb. 12, but the commission planned to complete its report Friday. The board and state lawmakers will consider whether to make the recommended changes.