On January 14th, 2011, The Times-Picayune, which, infrequently, is a fantastic newspaper, failed miserably. They were almost onto something about cuts in education, until they said this:
The Board of Regents still needs to come up with a plan for a higher education system that our state’s economy can sustain for the long run. And lawmakers need to recognize that they have been part of the problem, as when they upgraded LSU at Alexandria to four-year status in 2001, even though a public university exists in Natchitoches.
To the Editorial Board of the prestigious Times-Picayune:
Stop disparaging LSUA. You’re disrespecting their integrity as an institution and the value of their education. Stop pretending as if the lawmakers who upgraded its status were “part of the problem.” Be fair.
Let’s count: The Greater New Orleans area has how many colleges or universities?
Tulane, Loyola, UNO, Delgado, Xavier, Southern of New Orleans, Dillard. Seven colleges and universities? Eight? According to one count, there are fifteen.
And how many of those rely on public subsidization?
On behalf of the people of Central Louisiana, to The Times-Picayune: Get real and get your facts straight. Alexandria is the hub of a nine to twelve parish region; its airport and its hospitals serve over 400,000 people, slightly more than the most recent population estimate for the City of New Orleans.
And how many four-year institutions are located in the Alexandria Metropolitan Statistical Area?
Louisiana College, a relatively small Baptist college in Pineville, and Louisiana State University at Alexandria.
Somehow, though, according to your logic, our community does not deserve to have a four-year college, despite the fact that we serve a much larger geographic constituency than any “local” four-year school in the New Orleans area.
With all due respect to my friends who graduated from NSU, Times-Picayune, really, do you not realize how few people actually live in Natchitoches? Less than 20,000. Natchitoches isn’t really a college town; it’s a small retirement community, and they’re proud of that, as they should be.
To be sure, NSU is a great school, and so is LSUA.
During the last few years, LSUA has expanded and excelled, despite an overall challenging climate. They’ve added on-campus housing, and if you drive by the campus today, you’ll see more construction. LSUA has strongly asserted itself as a four-year institution, and in Central Louisiana, we desperately needed that.
The Times-Picayune did prove something, however: It proved its capacity for accepting and publicly endorsing a particularly insidious type of parochial arrogance, a misplaced exclusivity. I’ve never met anyone in Central or Northern Louisiana who has ever attacked or impugned the integrity of colleges in New Orleans. We’re perhaps too polite to point out that state taxpayers are helping to fund a four-year institution in New Orleans with a graduation rate of less than 5%, even though the leading paper in New Orleans implies that the very successful four-year university in our community is somehow superfluous, duplicative, and potentially corrupted by the legislature.
There’s another problem here. When the largest and most influential newspaper in the State of Louisiana fails to recognize or understand the necessary role and the success of LSUA, when they flippantly imply that the decision to turn LSUA into a four-year college is “part of the problem,” they are, essentially, skipping over Central Louisiana. Before LSUA became a four-year school, Central Louisiana was underserved; there should be no question about that. Yes, there’s NSU in Natchitoches, as The Times-Picayune points out, but for many people in Central Louisiana, especially people who are in the workforce and are also seeking a college degree, NSU is not exactly an easy commute. If you live where most people live in our region (and where most of the jobs are), NSU is a two-hour round-trip daily commute. Two hours on the road every single day of the school year.
Central Louisiana fought to have LSUA turned into a four-year school for a good reason: A local, centrally-located, four-year public college is absolutely critical to the future of our workforce, our economy, and our quality of life. We weren’t being greedy. We desperately needed it. Our numbers don’t lie.
I fear the misplaced criticism about LSUA, which I suspect largely centers on politics and not education, will hinder our ability, as a region, to make another case: Currently, according to the good people at Cenla Advantage Partnership, the Alexandria/Pineville MSA is one of the largest in the country that does not have a true community technical college. We are still starved. We are still underserved. Unlike our neighbors in New Orleans or Baton Rouge, we don’t have a surfeit of options, and before anyone says I Told Ya’ So, LSUA was not and could never be a technical college. It’s a completely different animal. Before it became a four-year school, LSUA primarily awarded associate degrees in nursing, criminal justice, and education. It was a commuter college, to be sure, and for the most part, it still is. But our area has never had a true technical college campus.
We want and deserve to have the full range of educational opportunities. We were right to fight for LSUA. Our community is more than big enough to support a four-year college, and we needed one. I wasn’t privy to the arm-twisting that occurred in the back rooms of the State Legislature, but even if it still rankles the editorial board of The Times-Picayune, ultimately, this has very little to do with politics or individual politicians; again, our community needed a four-year institution, plain and simple.
To me, this is what’s most ironic about The Times-Picayune editorial:
Some colleges, especially those located in relative proximity to each other, must consider consolidating classes and using each other’s classrooms to optimize facilities. Institutions that are too far apart to share facilities can integrate some administrative functions, such as payroll or accounting, to cut down costs.
Fair point, right? But the only college they mention by name, in the entire editorial, is LSU at Alexandria. Normally, I wouldn’t presume to give The Times-Picayune a lesson in Louisiana geography, but I think it’s proper to put this into context.
In New Orleans, there are two, four-year public colleges with open enrollment. Practically no one gets denied admission. There are two other four-year public schools in New Orleans with competitive admission, and there are, at least, five other private schools competing for many of the same students. This is all a good thing; don’t get me wrong. But it’s also expensive. Even the private schools rely on some degree of public subsidization, whether it’s through direct investment or government-backed student aid.
We probably should be having a discussion on consolidation and eliminating duplication. But with all due respect to The Times-Picayune, when you deflect to criticize a much-needed school in Alexandria- three hours away- without even mentioning the problems in your own backyard, you aren’t just doing a disservice to the people of New Orleans; you’re doing a disservice to all Louisianans.