Candidates for Louisiana governor should leave no college student behind

Screenshot 2015-08-07 07.06.55
Photo by Kiri Walton, courtesy of | The Times-Picayune

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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2 thoughts on “Candidates for Louisiana governor should leave no college student behind

  1. As ever, Bob, your thoughtful remarks should stir some soul-searching among our politicos. Especially the ones who preach about American exceptionalism (whatever that means) and the ability of all citizens to achieve the American dream. Those people who have consciously de-funded education from preK, K-12 to higher ed, don’t seem to comprehend that Louisiana remains at the bottom of the educational heap in a country that lags behind the educational achievement levels of Western Europe and most Asian countries.

    If they continue to lament that the U.S. is falling behind in world economics and not competitive with countries such as China, they might want to examine why other countries are surging past the U.S. It surely has to do with education.

    As you clearly point out, education for all who have the desire and ability to attain a college degree should not be limited to the very wealthy if we are to be a world leader in trade, diplomacy, military strength, etc. You don’t get to the top by being ignorant and uneducated. And that means the larger population, not just the privileged few.

    Keep holding them accountable. Maybe someday the message will get through.


  2. Mr. Vitter’s proposal is a bunch of smoke and mirrors, about what one would expect from this candidate. He will bring to the problem of underfunding not money,not new revenues, but a commission of hand-picked usual suspects sporting plenty of business acumen (just ask them) but little experience with or, for that matter knowledge of higher education’s value to those who get something beyond white-collar vocational training from the experience. These worthies will look for “unnecessary duplication,” said term undoubtedly to be defined by them and Mr. Vitter. Count on this: 1–this process will occupy a year or so, while higher education in Louisiana continues to reel from the damage done it over the past eight years by an absentee ideologue cum governor and his appointees. 2–it will recommend cuts in programs that contribute to the development of useful citizens capable of understanding Louisiana’s real problems while calling for greater subsidies to businesses and industries in the form of vocational training that private enterprise should be providing its employees.

    Students will get less for their money, the power brokers will get an ever-more gullible and pliable electorate, and Louisiana’s citizens will continue to subsidize obscene profits and bloated salaries for a favored few who then tell the electorate that they got where they are entirely by their own efforts and on their own merits. This is a real winner of a proposal for those interested in more of the same ethically and morally-challenged politics that has created the dire situation in which higher education in Louisiana finds itself. The proposal reflects the candidate’s contempt for the public interest and for the intelligence of Louisiana voters. He undoubtedly expects that the voters will confirm his opinion of them in the coming election. Given the polls at this juncture, who’s to say that he’s wrong? After all, it beats the heck out of running on his unimpressive, morally-challenged record in D. C.


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