A Message from the President
February 17, 2010 - PERC recommendations and budget update
At present, there are numerous significant issues unfolding that will impact Southeastern and all of higher education in Louisiana. I want to give you a brief update on some of the more important issues and provide some information about current activities on our campus as a result of these issues.
Postsecondary Education Review Commission
The Commission has completed its work, and the resulting recommendations can be found at the following link: http://www.laperc.org/docs/FINALRECOMMENDATIONS2.pdf
These recommendations now go to the Board of Regents and Legislature and will almost certainly have a significant influence on the work of these two bodies in coming months.
The recommendations cover a broad range of higher education issues, but some of the most significant recommendations address the following topics:
- changing the higher education governance structure in Louisiana, i.e., the number and type of management/oversight boards,
- moving authority to set tuition and fees, with some restrictions, from the Legislature to the management boards,
- raising expectations for significant improvement in graduation rates,
- emphasizing funding based on performance rather than enrollment,
- refining institution role, scope and mission, and
- reviewing academic programs to ensure program quality, non-duplication, cost effectiveness, and alignment with regional workforce and economic development needs.
Low-Completer Review of Degree Programs
This review, recently finalized by the Board of Regents, resulted in the elimination of a number of degree programs at institutions across the state. As this review process unfolded, it was determined that Southeastern’s horticulture degree program would be converted to a concentration within the biological sciences degree program. In addition, the Regents granted Southeastern permission for “temporary conditional” maintenance of the Master of Arts program in History.
While we have not been provided specific details, given budgetary conditions, we strongly believe the Board of Regents may reevaluate remaining degree programs in coming months with more strict expectations regarding the minimum number of completers necessary in order for programs to be sustained.
Review of Institutional Role, Scope and Mission
This review by the Board of Regents is expected to commence in the near future. Again, complete details are not known at this time, but it appears this process will seek to refine and sharpen the missions of institutions. My opinion is that Southeastern will emerge from this process more sharply focused on undergraduate education, student progression and timely graduation, and the current and projected workforce and economic development needs of our particular service area.
Duplicate Academic Program Review
The Board of Regents also has announced a review of duplicated academic programs. As yet, we have very little detail about the specific objectives of this review or the methodology to be followed in its completion.
Performance Based Funding Formula
It seems clear there will be additional work to refine a new funding formula for higher education. This work is expected to commence in the near future, and I have been asked to represent the Presidents of the University of Louisiana System as a member of a Task Force appointed to work on this issue.
2010-2011 Executive Budget
Perhaps the most important development is the release of the Governor’s Executive Budget this past Friday, February 12. Although details are still being analyzed, apparently the budget does not include any additional straightforward reductions in state support to campuses for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. While this is certainly good news, the budget still has to be finalized through the legislative process. Unfortunately, increases in the mandatory employer contributions to retirement plans are estimated to amount to nearly $3 million in additional costs for next year. This $3 million will come out of Southeastern’s budget and we are getting no additional funds to offset that mandated cost.
In addition, we are still being told to expect significant additional reductions in state support for higher education in the 2011/2012 fiscal year when federal stimulus funds are no longer available to offset projected state budget shortfalls. In the Governor’s press release on February 12, he stated, "The coming year will be a crucial period to put in place necessary reforms that set Higher Education on a long-term path of higher performance and sustainability. With the reduction of federal Medicaid match and the loss of federal stimulus support for Higher Education in FY 12, the time to prioritize and focus strategically is now, rather than face anticipated future reductions without a plan that safeguards our goals."
Clearly, these are unprecedented times for higher education, both in Louisiana and across our entire country. One thing is crystal clear - we absolutely cannot stick our heads in the sand and hope this will all just go away. We cannot simply resume business as usual. Like you, I am concerned about what the future holds; however, I believe we can and should be hopeful.
As I have often indicated, we are extremely fortunate that Southeastern serves such a dynamic region. Southeast Louisiana, unlike much of our state and country, continues to exhibit growth and economic promise. Our future as a university is inextricably tied to the future of this region of the state. I firmly believe we must remain focused on serving Southeast Louisiana and on working to ensure the success of our students and other constituents. I have no doubt we ultimately will succeed and prosper if we remain committed to these overarching objectives, but we must focus all of our energy and effort in order to do so.
Many transformational choices and decisions must be made in coming months. For example, in the very near future we will seek permission from our management board to increase admission standards. As a result of budget reductions, our institution has fewer resources, and we must act to shrink the operational footprint of the institution to better fit these limited resources. With increased importance being placed on graduation rates, we must concentrate our efforts on recruiting students who possess the academic preparation necessary to succeed in the university environment. The recruitment, retention and progression of these students must permeate everything we do.
As additional steps in our strategic budget plan are refined and implemented, it is likely we will reduce or eliminate programs that exhibit marginal strategic promise in order to focus limited resources on those most closely aligned with strategic priorities. In addition, faculty and staff workloads and assignments will be scrutinized to ensure the most efficient and effective utilization of our most valuable and expensive resource - our people.
We will make difficult decisions that may strain relationships - both on and off campus. However, those of you who know me well also know I believe important decisions must always be made based on what is in the best interest of our university and our students. If we follow that guiding principle and work together, we will successfully withstand current challenges and emerge a stronger institution.
As always, I will endeavor to keep you informed and involved.