Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, intends to file a bill in the Louisiana Legislature that would combine all four of Louisiana’s higher education systems into one.
The senator wants colleges near each other to “look for opportunities to work together and to be more efficient,” both in program offerings and spending. She would like to see a system that allows students to take courses on any campus and easily apply the credits to their chosen university.
“If we were more judicious and work together, we could increase the offerings to students,” Hewitt said.
However, the plan does have its critics, including Marty Chabert of the Board of Regents, Stephen Smith from the Louisiana Community and Technical College System Board of Supervisors, and Dr. Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System.
“This is something that has been proposed numerous times over the last 30 years,” Henderson said. “No one has actually said what it is they’re trying to achieve by that.”
In its recent special session, the Louisiana Legislature failed to reach a solution that addresses the almost $1 billion deficit in next year’s budget. Proposed cuts to the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students continue to threaten higher education.
Henderson recently appeared on the University of Louisiana System’s YouTube channel to urge legislators to fulfill “the TOPS promise” for current and future students of Louisiana colleges and universities.
While legislators and constituents focus nervously on the budget crisis, Hewitt’s proposal has seemed like less of a priority. Regarding the bill, Henderson laughed when asked if he was worried his job would be eliminated if it passes.
“Everything that I have done in higher education has been about expanding access to students,” he said. “I’m not part of the equation at all.”
Henderson said previous solutions have focused on “saving state dollars.” He said the recent proposal is different due to colleges being more reliant “on student tuition dollars than they are state taxpayer dollars.”
“Everything we do in higher education should be about ‘How do we corral the number of students that can come to our universities and graduate with degrees of value?’” Henderson said. “Unless you can say that with this reform we’re going to increase that number, I don’t think it’s worth the cost of pursuing the reform.”