Members of Gov. Bobby Jindal's special panel on revamping Louisiana's higher education system say they're uncertain the group will be able to find $146 million in reductions for the upcoming fiscal year. That's the amount Jindal targeted for the Postsecondary Education Review Commission, which was created by the Legislature last year to find leaner ways to operate Louisiana's colleges and universities. Commission member Stevie Smith, who also serves as chairman of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System's board of supervisors, says that may be a tall order to fill as the commission nears its final meetings this week. "I don't know if we've reached that goal," Smith says. "I haven't seen any solid numbers to quantify that." State Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, was more direct in his own assessment to The Times-Picayune, "I don't think we have come close to $146 million for the next fiscal year," he told the paper. Smith says the commission will vote next month on some 20 recommendations that could help the Legislature streamline the state's colleges and universities when lawmakers convene on March 29.
Ultimately, higher ed will have to learn to do more with less, commission members say. One proposal could potentially force universities to strengthen admission standards as a way to boost graduation rates. Another would create a single board for higher education rather than the five panels now in place. Louisiana has three university systems — the LSU System, the Southern System and the University of Louisiana System. Each also has its own board of supervisors. Over them is the state Board of Regents, which sets policy for all of Louisiana's colleges and universities. There's another system for community colleges. The commission also is considering allowing colleges to increase tuition. For more information on the Postsecondary Education Review Commission, visit www.laperc.org. — Alford