Too bad Bobby Jindal didn’t try to close Highland Coffees

By Robert Mann

Remember the widespread outrage on the LSU campus several years ago when Gov. Bobby Jindal and state legislators were slashing state funding to the school? Recall the raucous protests that erupted on college campuses across the state, as Jindal’s budget cuts to higher education triggered faculty layoffs and skyrocketing tuition and fees?

LSU_Memorial_Tower_2Nope? Well, perhaps the reason you don’t remember is that those protests never happened.

Sure, there was the occasional rally and students wrote letters to the editor. For the most part, however, students and their parents were sanguine in the face of higher tuition costs (some didn’t feel the pain of the increases because of the TOPS program).

Many faculty members were silent, too. Most likely they were fearful that any protest might cost them their jobs. That wasn’t an irrational worry given Jindal’s predilection for firing people who oppose his policies. (Isn’t it interesting how Jindal suddenly embraces free speech when it involves bashing gays or criticizing Common Core?)

So, what do you suppose happened recently when a popular coffee shop just off the LSU campus announced it would close its doors at year’s end because it could not afford to pay the increased rent its property owner demanded?

Why, there was widespread outrage and indignation. The impending closure of Highland Coffees was big news in Baton Rouge and elsewhere. In fact, students and faculty raised such a ruckus that the embarrassed property owner quickly backtracked and said he would try to negotiate a lease agreement to keep the coffee shop open.

So, now, we know where the state stands. You can get away with crippling the state’s flagship university, but don’t dare close a coffee shop.

That’s a bridge too far.

God help us if Highland Coffees laid off half its staff and doubled coffee prices. There might be riots on Chimes Street. (I’d probably join them, as I love that coffee shop and consider it a valuable Baton Rouge institution.)

Meanwhile, however, directly across the street, sits LSU, which has endured deep budget cuts and lost hundreds of faculty members since Jindal began slashing higher education funding. Tuition and fees have shot up. Across the state, it’s now much more expensive to attend college.

To be fair, many states took advantage of the recent recession to slash funding for their colleges and universities, shifting more of the burden to students and their families, keeping many marginal college students off campus entirely and further driving up student debt.

It’s not only Louisiana that has devalued education. We’re just the worst offender in the nation.

As Inside Higher Education reported in January, “In Louisiana . . . state colleges received $1.7 billion five years ago, the budget cycle just before states saw widespread effects of the downturn. In the current budget, the state’s college[s] are operating with $1.1 billion — about a third less money.”

Lest you conclude that Jindal’s cuts to Louisiana higher education were simply the natural consequence of the recession and the inexorable evolution of higher education in the U.S. (and, trust me, there is widespread resignation to this new funding reality, including at the LSU System Office), consider what other countries are doing.

After widespread student protests and a petition signed by 1.35 million voters, chastened German officials announced recently they are reversing course and going back to full government subsidized college tuition for all student who gain admission to a German university.

Germany rejoins those European countries that provide fee tuition to their citizen. Those countries include Austria, Denmark, Finland, and Norway. Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and France charge nominal fees to college students.

Then, there is the special case of South Korea, as reported by the website Think Progess in July:

The [Korean] government formally acknowledged a commitment to education through reforms put in place throughout the second half of the 20th century. Policies instituted in 1969 and 1974 abolished middle school and high school entrance exams, which increased access to school in the lower levels. The 1974 High School Equalization Policy also pursued uniform facilities and instruction through strong regulations and financial assistance across secondary schools to promote equality, primarily by assigning students to schools and taking control over curriculum.

 In 1980, the Chun Du Hwan administration introduced the July 30 Education Reform to make higher education more fair and accessible. A popular part of this reform dramatically increased higher education enrollment by eliminating individual entrance exams and stressing the importance of high school achievement in deciding college eligibility. This expanded the number of high school graduates accepted into colleges and universities from 403,000 students in 1980 to over 1.4 million in 1989. Another part of these reforms was to introduce one standardized college entrance exam that, despite its reputation for creating an “examination hell,” is considered a fair and objective measure of achievement. The mid- to late-1990s was also full of higher education reform meant to increase quality and efficiency.

Meanwhile, Think Progress reports, the United States “has fallen in higher education degree attainment internationally from first in 1990 to 12th in 2011, with only 43 percent of all 25-34 year olds holding at least an associate’s degree.”

As you might imagine, Louisiana does a particularly terrible job of helping our young people get through college. Only 21 percent of residents over age 25 have a college degree and the state is only making it harder, not easier, to get an advanced education.

Soon, Jindal will officially launch his presidential campaign. In his speech, he will no doubt tout all manner of dubious “accomplishments.” Among other things, he’ll claim to have “reformed” public education.

The truth is that Jindal’s reforms have wreaked havoc in education and shifted tens of millions in public dollars to substandard church schools that, among other offenses, teach junk science. He’s vilified teachers and ignored the real villain – poverty.

But, in all his talk about what he’s done to improve education, you can bet Jindal won’t dare mention how he and his legislative enablers tried to destroy higher education.

His disgraceful higher education record, alone, should disqualify Jindal as a potential president. It might yet, but only if university students, their parents, faculty and staff make sure he doesn’t get away with it.

Sure, the bad press over his deep cuts forced him to finally stop the bleeding in higher education, but the patient is still very weak. There’s been no substantial infusion of new blood.

No matter what Jindal and his higher education leaders might say, Bobby Jindal nearly destroyed higher education in Louisiana.

Will he get away without paying for it dearly when he runs for president? Let’s hope not.

All I can say it it’s too bad he didn’t try to shut Highland Coffees. Students, faculty and staff would have stormed the Governor’s Mansion in a decaffeinated rage.

Closing a coffee shop, as we now know, is crossing the line.

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14 Responses to Too bad Bobby Jindal didn’t try to close Highland Coffees

  1. Marcy Haynes says:

    As a budget cuts victim and former faculty member of one such disastrously depleted school, I want to thank you for this excellent article, Bob Mann. I am going to print it out and keep copies with me to hand to prospective employers when they look at me as if being laid off a faculty HAD to be my own fault–certainly not the fault of Jindal.

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  2. Owls says:

    You neglect to include that the percentage of people holding a tertiary degree has INCREASED when comparing 2011 to 2000 by 5 percentage points. In fact, since 1990 nearly every group of people in America have seen in an increase in the percentage of degrees obtained. This would imply that the United States not being so highly ranked means that other countries are increasing faster than us. You imply multiple times that we have somehow “fallen” when in fact all that has happened is that other countries have managed to do slightly better.

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  3. Owls says:

    Also you compared Louisiana Batchelor degrees to US general Associate or greater degrees, which makes the numbers look way different which makes people think differently. Louisiana is behind the national average by 7 percentage points, which is still pathetic, but regardless I don’t like the way you’ve spun it.

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    • Robert Mann says:

      I wasn’t trying to spin it. And didn’t mean to compare the two as I obviously did. I’ve edited the post to make it clearer that this is apples to oranges. Thanks for pointing that out.

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  4. Owls says:

    Also would like to say that I don’t disagree with you I just hate what I perceive as spinning facts to suit your agenda. Not to say that you intentionally are trying to deceive people, I’m just being critical.

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  5. Germany is making tuition free despite their well known austerity agenda–that should tell you something right there. Obviously they feel the economic benefits of free higher education outweigh their dogged allegiance to cutting spending.

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  6. Ralph Stand says:

    Can you imagine the outcry if Jindal had somehow cut funding to the LSU football team? (By the way, how about an article regarding how much money is lost annually on college athletics through university subsidies diverted from academics, not necessarily at LSU, but statewide?)

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  7. As the creator of the Save Highland Coffees petition and a co-organizer for the current community effort to save the coffee shop I have to say that I like your analysis.

    Highland Coffees wouldn’t exist without LSUs robust culture and prosperous history.

    We want to protect both for years to come.

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  8. Kaylyn Blosser says:

    While I do think our education budgets are severely lacking, I do not think comparing the way the United States finances education to that of Germany, Austria, Denmark, Finland, and Norway is fair. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, Germany’s school-aged population is 8,100,000; Austria’s school-aged population is 951,200; Denmark’s school-aged population is 733,600; Finland’s school-aged population is 641,300; and Norway’s school-aged population is 668,100. The United State’s school-aged population is 43,703,000, greater that half of Germany’s total population of 81,000,000.

    To put it in perspective, the enrollment of all 14 SEC schools is equal to 2/3 of Norway’s entire school-aged population (to check – I used the most current numbers posted on each school’s website and compared it to Norway). If 2/3 of Norway’s school-aged population can fit in all 14 SEC schools, then we could probably provide free schooling for that many.

    According to the College Board, I have 3,901 college options. To finance free education for every single one of those schools would be impossible. Taking the average cost of a four year college (also from the College Board) for a single year, the country would have to spend about $867 trillion just for one year.

    Maybe instead of asking the government to fund the cost of education, we should ask the schools to cut down on waste. Granted, that would not be perfect solution to cutting the rising costs in tuition, but it could certainly help.

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