By Robert Mann
Whoever moves into Louisiana’s Governor’s Mansion in January will replace a chief executive who not only ignored college students but also made their lives harder and more expensive. It will take years for our new governor to repair the tangible and psychological damage Gov. Bobby Jindal inflicted on higher education. What this year’s gubernatorial candidates propose for our colleges and universities should concern us all.
First, the good news: The candidates have released their proposals. It’s no surprise that each promises to prioritize funding for colleges and universities. U.S. Sen. David Vitter suggests a “Commission on Streamlining and Building Excellence in Higher Education” to craft various reforms, including “reducing unnecessary duplication and inefficiencies in academic programs.” State Rep. John Bel Edwards proposes a “balanced funding mix for higher education to include 50% state funding and 50% tuition.”
Vitter and Edwards are reasonably specific about what they would do. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, however, is vague. His proposal is a sketchy, rough outline, not a real plan. Dardenne does, however, promise he will focus on “stabilizing and prioritizing funding for higher education.” How, he doesn’t say.
Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle (who also serves on the LSU Board of Supervisors) has released no formal plan, but his press secretary emailed me an outline of his positions and told me he will fully fund the state’s tuition assistance program (TOPS) and “properly fund higher-ed through structural fiscal reform.”
Now, the bad news: All the candidates’ “plans” lack the detail a reasonable person might expect. That ambiguity will make it difficult to hold the winner fully accountable. So, it falls to journalists covering the race, especially those who moderate the debates, to demand more specifics.
Finally, the awful news – especially if you care about struggling middle-income and working poor families: None of the candidates says anything about the fundamental right of an academically prepared student to a college education. Put another way, no one states, plainly, “If you have the ability to make it in college but cannot afford it, Louisiana won’t leave you behind.”
While they might all perform better than Jindal on higher education, none of the candidates mentions a simple idea that could transform the lives of thousands of low-income students. Surprisingly, not one of them mentions the need to fund fully Go Grants, a state program for disadvantaged college students that can offer an annual award of up to $3,000. Sadly, Jindal never found more than half the money this worthy and important program requires.
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