Letter: Higher education must focus

Higher education in Louisiana has two problems: it is underfunded and the accountability system that assures quality educational outcomes is very weak. It is my intention, in cooperation with Rep. Steve Carter, chairman of the House Committee on Education, to bring both of these issues to the forefront in this year’s legislative session. It is our intention to bring both of these issues to the forefront in this year’s legislative session.

Our proposed legislation, which is still under development in consultation with the higher education community, simply directs the Board of Regents and higher education stakeholders to re-examine the way state funds are currently allocated to our institutions, and to consider development of a funding formula that properly considers costs — but emphasizes the outcomes — needed for each student. The Board of Regents, not the Legislature, will develop the new funding formula.

There is no doubt that our institutions of higher education are underfunded, a situation that must be rectified. However, this is not a valid reason to refrain from beginning a discussion of how to best focus available resources to produce the desired results at the campus level.

It is practical, not punitive, to allocate a portion of the state funding for higher education based upon how well institutions meet student and state needs. Currently, our retention and graduation rates fall well below the regional and state averages, and we must significantly strengthen the linkage between training and degree programs and workforce needs.

Our students need a clear, direct and efficient path to degrees that are linked to real, quality jobs, while incurring the least amount of debt possible.

Our economic prosperity dictates that we increase the number of adults with postsecondary certificates and degrees that meet current and projected workforce and economic development needs. It is the combined responsibility of the state and the postsecondary educational system to meet these needs. To do otherwise constitutes a disservice to the students and the state.

Our purpose is to support and promote education and to reform higher education in a manner that allows our students to succeed and create a brighter, sustainable future for our state. We stand ready and willing to work with the higher education community, the business community and other interested parties to achieve this mutually beneficial end.

State Sen. Conrad Appel
chairman, Senate Committee on Education

Metairie