Wednesday, June 17, 2009

PAR to Jindal: Get serious about higher education

Add the Public Affairs Research Council to the growing list of entities concerned that Gov. Bobby Jindal isn't serious about funding higher education.

In a press release, PAR says the governor and House leadership need to reverse their opposition to two measures that could bail out colleges and universities. One would tap into the state's "rainy day fund," and the other would postpone a tax break on excess itemized deductions.

Like any observer with a functioning cerebral cortex, the folks at PAR note that "the proposed budget cutbacks could severely damage the potential for the state's colleges and universities to play a meaningful role in long-term economic growth. "

PAR is critical of the governor's lack of a "clear strategy" to deal with the looming educational crisis or to mitigate the effects of the ongoing fiscal one:

Not only are student services being threatened, but also institutional capacity
for commercialization and technology transfer is at risk. Funding for research
centers, art galleries and museums is on the chopping block with little to no
public debate regarding the merits and far-reaching impacts of those cuts.

Just as four former governors advocated a few days ago, PAR says the state's leadership must shore up higher education finances temporarily, and simultaneously look for long-term fixes for the state's out-of-whack college and university systems.

PAR wants our leadership to "re-size the state's higher education enterprise in order to minimize duplication of programs, maximize opportunities for consolidation and preserve the cultural and economic benefits of higher education. "

Chief among the reforms necessary, PAR says, is shifting the predominant college enrollment from four-year to two-year institutions. The think tank says leaders need to make decisions in five areas:
  • Which degree programs at each institution are essential to continue?
  • Which are duplicated elsewhere?
  • What services can be privatized rather than terminated? (Note: PAR's privatization fetish is regrettable)
  • What economies of scale can be achieved with consolidation?
  • What can be done to ease the transition for students and faculty?

One piece of legislation working through the process, HB 794 by Speaker Jim Tucker (R-Terrytown), creates a nine-member commission to study those issues. With the exception of "privatization" (which all too often winds up costing more than the same services provided by government, needlessly enriching corporations that can afford lobbyists and big political contributions), these are ideas must be explored.

But first, higher education needs enough money to survive until those important decisions are reached.

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