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2012 August 6 - 12:00 am

NEWS ANALYSIS: La. Regents Board Questions Value of Studies

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Study season is underway for state higher education leaders, laden with requests from lawmakers who are pushing ideological positions but couldn’t get enough colleagues to vote with them on the ideas.

The Board of Regents will spend time and money getting data and recommendations together for lawmakers who have resoundingly rejected the last several sets of proposals sent over in recent years.

So, what’s the point?

That’s exactly the question members of the Regents board are asking.

“This is almost a laughable waste of our time,” board member Albert Sam of Baton Rouge said at a recent Regents meeting after hearing the list of legislative study requests.

In some instances, lawmakers are seeking support for ideas already rejected by the board — or asking for study of ideas that have no chance of passage in the Louisiana Legislature, like a review of the implications of getting rid of the Southern University System.

“Why would somebody who knows that this will never pass ask us to spend our time looking at this?” said board member Robert Bruno of Covington. “He’s making a political statement.”

Some of the lawmakers pushing these studies that likely will sit on shelves are some of the same people who criticize wasteful government spending.

Ideas from recent reviews and studies have yielded few changes backed by lawmakers.

For example, earlier this year, the Regents board recommended making LSU’s Shreveport campus a branch campus of Louisiana Tech University, shifting the Shreveport college into the University of Louisiana System.

That recommendation went nowhere in the Legislature.

Instead, lawmakers endorsed LSU’s counter-proposal to expand course offerings at the Shreveport school and to increase collaborations with community and technical college campuses and the nearby LSU Health Sciences Center.

Then, they urged the Board of Regents to support that course of action.

“We made our recommendations already,” said Joseph Farr, a Regents member from Monroe.

Other suggestions made earlier this year to the Legislature that have fallen by the wayside came from a specially-created study panel that spent several months looking at how best to govern Louisiana’s public colleges, called the Governance Commission.

The commission, which was overseen by Regents staff, recommended that lawmakers strengthen the power of the Board of Regents over the other college management boards, remove the requirement that lawmakers approve tuition increases at colleges, increase need-based financial aid for students and restructure the free college tuition program called TOPS.

None of those ideas received legislative approval.

“We made some suggestions that went down to resounding defeat that aren’t very different than what we’re being asked to look at again,” noted Clinton “Bubba” Rasberry, a Regents member from Shreveport when he heard the latest list of requests from lawmakers.

This year, lawmakers asked the Board of Regents to study:

Current placement of Louisiana’s colleges and universities and whether the higher education systems should be reorganized.

The fairness of existing laws involving TOPS residency requirements.

The feasibility of drug testing as a condition of TOPS eligibility, in response to a failed legislative effort to require such testing of welfare recipients.

Executive compensation at university system offices and boards, pay that isn’t governed by the Legislature and that lawmakers have refused to limit when the idea has surfaced in recent years.

Strategies for graduating more students in science, technology and math fields.

Whether colleges that offer professional programs should have their own tuition-setting authority without legislative oversight.

Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell said the studies are worthwhile to give advice to lawmakers, even if they don’t necessarily take it.

“To me, being a part of these conversations is important,” Purcell told board members.

But Bruno suggested the studies should come with more authority: “Is there any way we can require them to follow our recommendations if we do these studies?” he asked.

No chance there. And there’s little chance lawmakers will even listen to the advice they’re given again next year.

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