Last Modified: Thursday, June 14, 2012 11:55 AM
Former state Representative Vic Stelly said Wednesday he is stepping down from the state Board of Regents on Friday because he is “disillusioned and disappointed at the direction” higher education is going throughout the state.
“Higher ed budgeting from the state has gone down almost $500 million since 2008,” he said. “It’s just taken a nosedive. Something has got to change in Louisiana.”
Stelly is leaving the board six months before his term was supposed to end Dec. 31. He was appointed by then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco in 2007. The Board of Regents is the coordinating board that disperses money to all statewide universities.
Stelly said higher education is “not a high priority” for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. He said funding for McNeese State University went from $41 million in 2008, to its current level of $22.8 million.
Stelly said the high point came in 2008, when the state’s higher education funding level reached the national average of the southern states for the first time in 25 years. Since then, he said, the board has dealt with annual budget cuts, including a $25 million reduction one month before the end of the current fiscal year.
“That’s almost impossible,” Stelly said. “But then, we’ve already been told to get ready for the mid-year budget cut next year.”
He said he was not pleased with comments from state Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Jim Purcell that the cuts could have been worse.
“How many times do we say that,” Stelly asked. “Is there any light at the end of the tunnel? I say there isn’t.”
Stelly said that “perception is reality” when it comes to claims that the state has too many universities. A study he did comparing Louisiana with other southern states showed similar numbers.
“We’re in the ballpark,” Stelly said. “Why is less necessarily better? If that was the case, let’s close every school in Louisiana (and) build one gigantic school right in the middle of the state.”
Stelly said the state’s universities are raising tuition to make up for the cuts. He said McNeese has raised its annual tuition by 10 percent over the last three years.
One of Stelly’s “pet peeves” is how the nation counts its college graduates. This spring, 770 students graduated from McNeese, but only 330 were counted. Only students who start and finish a university within six years are counted as graduates, he said.
“(If) you start McNeese and transfer to another school or drop out to go to work, you don’t count,” he said. “It’s misleading when you say the graduation rate at McNeese is only 40 percent.”
Stelly said he is leaving the board “on his own terms.” He said Purcell recently tried to talk him out of resigning, and that two other board members told him they have considered stepping down.
“Government should provide for the education of our citizens,” Stelly said. “And if we don’t do that, what are we there for?”
Jindal has not announced who he will appoint to replace Stelly on the board.
Posted By: Emma Crayton On: 6/14/2012
Title: A note of appreciation
It is rewarding to know that we had someone ion the board that possessed character, ethics and honesty, and seriously upheld their position with the future of the constituents first and foremost. I commend you for your service provided and the responsibility you shared for us and to us and representation of us as people not as dollar signs.
Posted By: Al On: 6/14/2012
Title: Bravo Vic Stelly
Thanks for standing up for your beliefs and for trying to bring attention to this important issue.