Because we are working frantically to meet the deadline for publication of our book about Bobby Jindal, we have scaled back on the frequency of posts for LouisianaVoice. Instead, we are relying heavily on several guest columnists. The following post was written by Michael Kurt Corbello, Ph.D.
He is an associate professor of political science at Southeastern Louisiana University where he has taught since 1987. From 1991 to 2011, he was the founding director of the Southeastern Poll. He teaches courses in American politics, research methods and statistics, polling and public opinion, Louisiana politics, the Louisiana Legislature in Session, political parties, environmental policy, American foreign policy and European politics. Since 2004, he has run a three-week summer study abroad program for SLU in Salzburg, Austria.
He has volunteered the following column from his own political blog, Dr. Kurt Corbello on Politics:
By Dr. Michael Kurt Corbello (special to LouisianaVoice)
In the current battle in the Louisiana legislature over how to fully fund public higher education while not raising the ire of the Jindal/Norquist anti-tax axis, it is heartening to witness comments by leaders in the business community drawing a direct connection between business opportunity and broad, affordable access to higher education. Still, politicians and ideologues in Louisiana often show an openness to diminishing, if not destroying, the great strides made in Louisiana to increase access to higher education. Frequently, this tendency to limit access is born out of well-intentioned ignorance, as in October 2009, when Louisiana House Speaker Jim Tucker called for a study to explore closing some of the public college “facilities on every corner” of the state.
At other times, calls to reduce the number of public secondary education institutions are clearly born out of malice and deceit. Recently, a rabidly ideological blogger rallied the bandwagon to eliminate a few colleges and universities in Louisiana, arguing that our “14” public four-year institutions are too many to serve a population of 4.6 million. According to the blogger, Louisiana should take a lesson from the “12” public colleges and universities serving the “four times” more populous state of Florida. The implication is that public post-secondary institutions in Louisiana do not carry a heavy enough burden in serving the state’s population to justify having “so many” institutions.
Of course, we’ve heard these arguments before, repeated enough that they are widely accepted as true. Yet, it does not take a tremendous effort to discover that the basic assumptions behind the “downsizing argument” in Louisiana are false! Perhaps it is a bit petty to suggest that higher education policy “thinkers” get their facts straight (Louisiana has 17 public four-year colleges and universities, while Florida has 39), but while we’re at it lets look at the “counterintuitive” side of the debate: that Louisiana’s public system of higher education isn’t just grossly underfunded to the point of bankruptcy, it is overburdened, should be expanded and should be returned to a level of affordability for the average family in this state!
As a point of public disclosure, the reader should know that I am a Louisiana-born, raised, and public-educated political science professor with a nearly thirty-year career at one of the state’s four-year universities. This is to say that I have a bias, but it is one based upon experience and data, not upon ideological deceit, intellectual sloppiness, and a lack of transparency! First, I alter some basic assumptions about the structure of higher education in Louisiana.
My view is that post-secondary education should be thought of as a system with many interdependent parts, public and private, large and small, four-year and two-year, general and specialized, each serving different needs and communities in order to serve the state as a whole. Further, I argue that a good and basic way to measure the burden on the system within each state is to divide the state population by the state’s total number of post-secondary institutions. I used Census data and information available from the U. S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics to compare the population burden upon the higher education systems for each of the fifty states, plus Washington, D.C. Data on State Populations and Institutions of Higher Education as of 2010 to 2015
Nationwide there are 718 public four-year colleges and universities (avg. 14), 1705 private four-year institutions (avg. 33), 1173 public community colleges (avg. 23), and 284 private community colleges (avg. 6), for a total of 3814 post-secondary institutions (avg. 75). Yet, not all states are the same! Louisiana has 17 public 4-year colleges and universities (rank=11th), 12 private four-year institutions (rank=34th), 16 public community colleges (rank=27th), and 6 private community colleges (rank=12th), for a total of 51 post-secondary institutions (rank=28th). Since critics like (and misstate) the comparison, Florida has 39 public four-year colleges and universities (rank=4th), 79 private four-year institutions (rank=6th), 63 public community colleges (rank=3rd), and 12 private community colleges (rank=8th), for a total of 193 post-secondary institutions (rank=4th).
Combining all public and private four-year colleges and universities yields a different set of results. The national average is 48 institutions per state (New York, 215; California, 200; Pennsylvania, 155; Florida, 118; Texas, 109; Ohio, 108; Massachusetts, 98; Illinois, 97; Michigan, 83). Louisiana (29) and most of the remaining states of the South have a range six to 66 public and private four-year colleges and universities per state.
But the picture of higher education in the United States, Louisiana, and the South would not be complete without considering the impact of the 1,457 public and private community colleges across the country. Nationwide, the average number of these institutions per state nationwide is 39. California has 133, Texas 83, New York 79, Florida 75, Ohio 69, North Carolina 67, and Pennsylvania 63. In the South, there are 540 public and private community colleges, with an average of 32 per state. While Louisiana ranks a low 11th with 22, the range is from a low of 2 in D.C. to a high of 83 in Texas.
In all, there are 3,814 public and private post-secondary institutions across the United States, and each of them plays a critical role in educating a valuable constituency; you, me, our children, and those yet to breathe the air of curiosity and creativity. The question is, does Louisiana have a glut of higher education institutions? The best available data clearly shows that Louisiana doesn’t have enough post-secondary institutions, particularly community colleges that can provide access for people in more remote areas, as well as to individuals not ready for urban four-year institutions! Here is why!
Nationwide, Louisiana ranks 25th in population size and 26th in the percentage of urban population. These are factors that help to define economic activity in a state, the training required of its workforce, and the distribution of educational facilities. In addition, Louisiana is 28th in the total number of post-secondary institutions. Yet, Louisiana ranks 12th (91,170) in population per post-secondary institution. Again, I see this as a measure of the burden on the state’s higher education system.
Comparing Louisiana among the 17 states of the South is even more telling. Louisiana ranks 10th in population size (4,649,676), 8th in the percentage of urban population, 12th in the total number of colleges (51), but 6th in population per institution (91,170) per state. Only Texas (140,401), Maryland (117,184), Florida (103,074), Georgia (99,974), and Virginia (99,122) impose somewhat heavier burdens on their higher education systems than does Louisiana. But each of these states has made a commitment to higher learning that continually fails to gain traction in the morass of Louisiana politics. Nationally, 77% of states are less burdensome to their higher education systems than is Louisiana. In the South, Louisiana’s higher education system is more heavily burdened than systems in 65% of all other states.
Talk of closing public colleges and universities in Louisiana raises the question of access. Critics argue that public institutions “crowd out” potential private ones that would fill any vacuum created in their absence. Yet, public post-secondary institutions exist precisely because private institutions are unaffordable and inaccessible. The argument in favor of creating a vacuum in public higher education is a fraudulent one.
The average college student at a public institution in Louisiana is struggling to fulfill dreams. Tuition and books are increasing in costs, and so are debts for attending college. Most students have little money, even though they often work one, two or three jobs. Many have families. Most are able to go to college because they can drive to one within 30 miles of their families, children, and jobs. Closing public colleges and universities negatively alters the logistics and deprives them, and us, of the promise of a better life!
There is no genius in taking an ax to a budget. There is no brilliance in talking fast and saying nothing. There is no fiscal responsibility in refusing to pay the state’s bills in a way that is prudent. Previous state leaders grappled with Hurricane Katrina and left a $1 billion surplus that the current crop depleted in the blink of an eye. Tax cuts did not generate magic, as they never do. More pockets of “surplus” money had to be found and depleted. The once dependable “Charity Hospital” system is gone, sold off to the highest bidders, its replacement over budget, in legal limbo, and leaving thousands without care.
Post Katrina, bright, young, and talented college faculty came to Louisiana, especially to the University of New Orleans, wide-eyed and full of energy to build a life and a career in an exotic new frontier. Then we began hearing the smart-ass mantra, “Do more with less!” In response, these new creative souls did more with more by leaving the state, in the case of UNO, destroying its brand and making its future more troubled than Katrina ever did.
It is mind-boggling that anyone can think that it is good for business when we refuse to pay our bills and rip the heart right out of our future! We need responsible budgeting and more tax revenue! That is how government pays its bills. It is also how we take care of the multitude of things that, large, medium, or small, add up to a quality of life to be envied!
In the end, the now recurring crisis of higher education in Louisiana is a manufactured crisis. It is a crisis, the prevailing solutions to which run counter to “common” sense. After the players change, it will take us at least a generation and many hundreds of millions of dollars to reverse the damage done by this generation of “leaders.” The alternative is a state cannibalizing itself into unspeakable backwardness.
Without courage and resistance in the State Legislature, the current crop of leaders will continue to destroy what others in Louisiana took generations to build. Thankfully for us and for them, it is wanton destruction that they will never be around to “fix.” Where higher education is concerned, closing public institutions, or privatizing them, alters the mission and leaves people without access!