Editorial: State colleges and universities need help to thrive in tough economic climate

The LSU System could and should become a major player in driving economic development in Louisiana, according to LSU System

President F. King Alexander.

But to make that happen, the state needs to stop slashing the higher ed budget, the university needs to be able to set its

own tuition rates and it should pinpoint areas where it can help the state out, such as in agriculture and engineering, he

said.

“We need to set our sights high. We need to raise expectations,” he recently told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

If the state doesn’t stop slashing higher ed funding, Alexander is on board with having the federal government step in. He

suggests matching federal funds for states that “want to invest in higher education.”

As far as tuition, LSU’s rate is 25 percent below the national average, and yet LSU students earn higher starting salaries

than graduates of many nationally-ranked universities. That makes an LSU education a good value, Alexander said. He argues

that if a school can demonstrate its value to students, it should have the flexibility to set its tuition.

“At LSU we are never going to outcharge or outpace our peers in sending students into indebtedness,” he said. Rather, the

ability to set tuition gives a school more flexibility to make the decisions that benefit it, he said.

In the meantime, it would seem LSU

is being outpaced in some areas by at least one university neighbor to

the east. The University

of Alabama is growing, despite the fact that it, too, has had to

deal with severe budget cuts. Their solution? The university

aggressively recruits top-notch potential students in other

states. Alabama administrators say the extra cash brought in through

enrollment gains has off-set the cuts.

In 2002, out-of-state students made

up 24 percent of Alabama’s student body. Today, they account for 60

percent. Alabama attracts

more National Merit Scholars than any other public university in

the country. It has added more than 400 new faculty members

in the past five years. Since 2003 its student enrollment has

increased by 15,000.

LSU has about a dozen recruiters

working to attract out-of-state students. Alabama has 37 scattered all

over the nation. Also,

Alabama’s Board of Trustees is allowed to set tuition, while LSU’s

board is not. They can charge out-of-state students tuition

that exceeds the Southern regional average if they want to. LSU

cannot.

Alexander is aware of all of this, and while he plans to add extra recruiting positions, LSU will never strive to enroll more

than half of its students from out of state, nor will it look to grow to 50,000 or 60,000 students.

Alabama has been focused on overall growth. Alexander said LSU is focused on growth in certain target areas like business

and engineering.

Let’s hope that our state’s flagship university and our own McNeese State University can, like the University of Alabama,

find a way to thrive in a tough economic climate that has forced such drastic cuts to their operating budgets.

 

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.