It’s no secret that Louisiana has been steadily cutting back financial support for higher education.
“Ten years ago, the taxpayer funded about 70% of our operation. Today, the taxpayer funds about 18% of our operation.”
But when University of Louisiana System President Jim Henderson spoke to the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday, he also said, “This would not be a higher education conversation if I didn’t complain a little bit about funding. I want to put a little bit different spin on that, if I can though.”
Henderson explained that consistent admonishment by lawmakers to “run more like a business” prompted university leaders to try applying business terminology to what they do., and Henderson gave an example.
“Of the 16 states in the Southern Region Education Board, we operate on less resources per student than every other state: that’s total resources, resources that come from the state, and tuition and fees,” he began. “ So, you know, when I talk about the low total resources we have per student, I call that a low unit cost of production. Those units are students.”
And instead of focusing just on unit costs, as has been the case with state and Board of Regents budgeting practices, Henderson says the U-S System is now looking at return on investment, and have set a goal:
“We decided that by the year 2025, we were going to produce 150,000 new graduates from the University of Louisiana.”
In order to achieve that, they’re going to have to look beyond the traditional pool of new high school grads.
“We know that we’re going to have to reach adults. There’s 1.5-million adults in the state of Louisiana that are in the workplace, but yet lack a post-secondary degree.”
Twenty years ago, before TOPS, one-third of all U-L System students were adults, aslo known as non-traditional students. But with colleges increasingly dependent on TOPS for their funding, and adults ineligible for the scholarships, the regional universities focused on recruitment of new high school graduates. Now, with tuition and fees steadily climbing, too many adults have been priced out of going back to school.
“I think the increased cost of education has put a burden on adults – especially single, working parents – that is going to be hard for us to recover from,” Henderson observes.
One thing they’d like to do to woo more adults back to college is to offer discounted tuition for adult classes during off-peak hours – such as weekday afternoons. But, Henderson says, there no current mechanism to do that.
“To increase tuition in Louisiana, it requires a two-thirds vote for the Legislature. But for us to decrease tuition? We don’t even have that authority.”