Louisiana's higher education formula seems unfair to Southern
A member of the panel looking at ways to revamp Louisiana's public college systems questioned the state university budgeting formula Tuesday and suggested it could be shortchanging Southern University.
The comments from Lezli Baskerville, an appointee to the Postsecondary Education Review Commission, came in a wide-ranging discussion the panel had about university funding in the state as it considers recommendations for cutting costs amid years of projected budget woes.
Baskerville said the commission should consider whether to recommend that cuts fall more heavily on schools with larger endowments and more private donations, instead of colleges like Southern, which has fewer resources to cushion the blow.
"If you treat things equally, they will not necessarily be equitable," she said.
Colleges received budget cuts this year at least partially based on a performance-based formula that uses benchmarks — like student graduation rates, curriculum costs and research work — rather than just student enrollment.
The three-campus Southern University System, the nation's only historically black university system, took a larger percentage cut than the three other public college systems in the state, said Baskerville, president of the National Association For Equal Opportunity.
Southern's course offerings and smaller number of graduate students contributed to the size of cut the system received under the funding formula, said Donnie Vandal, deputy commissioner for finance for the Board of Regents. He also noted that Southern's funding levels have been high when compared to similar institutions.
Baskerville said without comparability in funding, state officials shouldn't expect comparability in the performance of schools.
"We've got disparities in faculty salaries, disparities in infrastructure, disparities in a range of things, including outcomes," she said. "Everything in the chain of getting to the outcome is not equal."
She also said it costs more to educate students who are low-income, first generation college students, who she said make up a larger portion of the student population at Southern, compared to many other schools.
The 13-member higher education commission is combing through the details of Louisiana's university systems, looking for efficiencies, cost-cutting moves and restructuring ideas. The panel, created by the Legislature, is packed with national and regional higher education experts. Its report is due to the Board of Regents by Feb. 12.
The commission hasn't made any recommendations so far. State Sen. Ben Nevers, chairman of the commission, said recommendations to merge or close campuses, restructure governance or make cuts will be debated in later commission meetings, which are scheduled monthly.