By Koran Addo
Capitol news bureau
July 09, 2012
Southern University will compete for a share of Baton Rouge’s community college market this fall as part of a strategy to boost sagging enrollment.
The student numbers have dipped during the past several years with the introduction of tougher state admissions standards.
The state has warned the strategy could backfire when it comes time to assess the performance measures used to divvy up state funding for schools — a concern a spokesman within the Southern System downplayed on Friday.
The plan calls for Southern University at Shreveport, a two-year community college known as SUSLA, to operate a satellite location on the Southern system’s Baton Rouge campus.
Students who don’t meet the admissions criteria to get into Southern can still get on campus by enrolling in remedial, or developmental courses through SUSLA.
In other words, participating students would take classes taught by SUSLA-hired instructors, pay tuition and apply for financial aid through the Shreveport school, but be physically located on the Baton Rouge campus.
The partnership allows students to cross-enroll, meaning they can take necessary developmental courses through SUSLA simultaneously with the college-level coursework offered by Southern.
So far, 150 students have signed up, Southern Chancellor James Llorens said. Those students are eligible to live on the Baton Rouge campus and participate in all school activities, he added.
Students who complete 18 credit hours while maintaining a 2.0 grade-point-average have the option to continue taking classes at SUSLA, working toward an Associate’s degree, or to transfer to Southern as student seeking a baccalaureate degree, Llorens said.
The plan should boost enrollment for the Shreveport school at the outset by opening a new market about 260 miles southeast of their normal recruiting area.
The idea is that Southern’s Baton Rouge campus will benefit on the back-end as many of those students transition into the four-year school.
Llorens said the partnership is in line with a key state initiative to transition more community college students into four-year schools.
Llorens also described the partnership as a way around the state rule banning regional schools like Southern from offering more than one developmental course to incoming freshman starting in 2014.
Louisiana’s statewide schools, including LSU’s Baton Rouge campus, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Louisiana Tech and University of New Orleans, won’t offer developmental courses starting in the fall.
“We don’t want students to lose the opportunity to get a four-year degree,” Llorens said. “If you tell a student they don’t meet the criteria, you could deflate their ambition. Some of them may not pursue going to community college.”
State Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell, however, suggested that schools like Southern could be better off partnering with community colleges already established in the area, which in this case would be Baton Rouge Community College.
This week, spokesmen for the state’s community college system and Southern said there is an existing partnership in place between the two schools and that relationship won’t be strained by bringing SUSLA into the market.
But Purcell still cautioned that a partnership between Southern and SUSLA could “adversely impact the GRAD Act .”
The 2010 LA GRAD Act ties 15 percent of state funding to schools that meet performance targets, including graduation and retention rates, and also gives campuses permission to raise tuition by up to 10 percent each year.
By making it easy for students to transfer from SUSLA to Southern after roughly three semesters worth of work, the implication is that the Shreveport school’s retention rate will suffer.
“We expect some loss, albeit minimal loss,” said SUSLA spokesman Bill Sharp. “This won’t adversely affect the GRAD Act.”
Not passing the GRAD Act would be a big blow to any of Louisiana’s colleges which have seen a 26 percent decline — about $420 million — in state funding to higher education starting in 2008.
Meeting the GRAD Act standards “is always a concern, but educating as many students as we can is our mission,” Southern Board of Supervisors Chairman Darren Mire said.
What may be an equally large concern is the 8 percent average annual drop in enrollment Southern’s Baton Rouge campus has seen beginning six years ago when tougher state admission criteria kicked in.
According to Southern, enrollment this spring was about 6,700 students, down from 7,000 last fall.
SUSLA Chancellor Ray Belton said a similar partnership his school entered into with Southern University at New Orleans a year ago has proven successful as an enrollment booster. It has gone from about 20 students participating initially to 100 anticipated for the fall semester.
SUSLA, he remarked, “equals or exceeds” Louisiana’s other two-year schools in performance.
“We’ve been exploring strategies to enable all of Southern’s campuses to work like a system and take advantage of our respective resources,” Belton said. “What we do, we do well.”