Southern board consolidates colleges

The Southern University System took a number of steps Friday to become leaner and more efficient as it faces the new reality of trying to attract and graduate students in a state and national climate where funding for higher education is becoming more and more scarce.

Southern’s Baton Rouge campus took the most dramatic step as part of a years-in-the-making plan to reinvent itself amid declining student enrollment.

Southern University at New Orleans, called SUNO, split one administrative position into two to better handle student affairs and enrollment.

The Southern University system, which oversees all the campuses, took another step toward putting together a plan the system president says will make Southern’s network of four-year campuses, a two-year campus, law school and agricultural center more nimble.

In one of its rare meetings in New Orleans, the Southern University Board of Supervisors approved a reorganization plan allowing the Baton Rouge campus to slim down from nine academic colleges to six, 39 academic chairs to 21 and the elimination of more than two dozen “low completer” programs over the next 12 months.

Southern Chancellor James Llorens said merging and streamlining programs will save the campus money and put the university in a better position to serve a student population that has dwindled from about 10,000 students in 2005 to today’s enrollment of roughly 6,500 students.

Under the plan, the College of Education will be combined with the College of Arts and Humanities; the College of Engineering will add the Computer Science Department to its program offerings; the College of Business will merge accounting, economics and finance into one department; the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences will add the Nelson Mandela School of Public Policy; and the College of Sciences will merge with the College of Agricultural, Family and Consumer Sciences; while the College of Nursing and Allied Health will add three health-related programs.

“When you look at the structure of our academic colleges and departments, they’ve been around for years and years,” Llorens said. “Some of them really are not all that complementary. As we are in a new reality of fiscal restraint, we have to become more efficient. This is an opportunity to reassign colleges within departments where they will complement each other.”

In one example, Llorens said it makes more sense to move the Computer Science Department out of the sciences and into the College of Engineering. SUBR also terminated the master’s program in mass communications, bachelor’s degree in architecture and the Ph.D. in special education.

SUBR’s reorganization was jump-started out of necessity in October 2011 when the school declared a financial exigency. Declining enrollment coupled with fewer state dollars and rising benefit costs led to declaring exigency, which eases downsizing staff and consolidating programs.

Southern’s board also gave SUNO authorization to split the vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment services position into two positions. The move keeps one administrator in charge of student services and creates the new position of vice chancellor for enrollment management at an annual salary of $70,000.

SUNO Chancellor Victor Ukpolo said he expects the new position to help recruiting and enrollment on a campus of roughly 3,000 which experienced a 300-student drop in enrollment near the beginning of the year.

The new position will play a large part in boosting the SUSLA Connect program. SUSLA, is the acronym for the Southern System’s two-year school in Shreveport. The SUSLA Connect program is for students who don’t meet the eligibility requirements for admittance into a four-year school.

Students enrolled in the SUSLA program are considered community college students but get the benefit of living on a four-year campus. The program allows students to cross-enroll, meaning they can take necessary developmental courses through SUSLA simultaneously with college-level coursework offered on the four-year campus.

In one of their final acts during a board meeting spanning nearly seven hours, Southern’s board voted 10-5 to streamline information technology, finance and business affairs under the system’s control.

It’s a departure from the most recent alignment where those services were handled independently on each of Southern’s campuses.

Southern System President Ron Mason said the move allows the university to operate in a more business-like manner. “I think we’re making good progress every day,” he said.