A friend recently observed that the financial bloodletting we've witnessed in higher education in Louisiana over the past five-plus years had become almost comical.
Pardon me but I don't see any humor in it, though from time to time, unfortunately, we are reminded of it.
Higher education's plight, specifically LSU's, reared its ugly head again this week when U.S. News and World Report released its annual rankings of colleges and universities. U.S. News' annual report is somewhat notable, if for no other reason because the publication has been doing it for a number of years and someone somewhere decided U.S. News knows what it's talking about when it ranks colleges and universities.
As expected, Tulane University in New Orleans was the highest ranked college or university in the state in U.S. News' "Best Colleges 2014" report. A private institution, Tulane holds down No. 52 on U.S. News' list of so-called Top Tier universities in the nation.
LSU in Baton Rouge is the highest ranked publicly funded university in Louisiana, according to U.S. News. But ranked 135th nationally, as LSU was for 2014, is hardly something to crow about.
In fact, it's quite embarrassing, especially for an LSU graduate like me.
LSU's slide on U.S. News' annual list of the best colleges and universities in the country isn't something that occurred overnight. It's been building — sliding — for years, or since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008 when state revenues took a dive and investments in higher education plummeted with them. The public's appetite to do something about it never materialized, though some grumbling can be heard in every nook and cranny in the state these days. Perhaps the general public is beginning to realize that Louisiana's future is directly tied to how good of a job we do in educating and training young people, hoping along the way that we create enough jobs to keep them here.
After all, how many people do you know living and working in Texas or Georgia or elsewhere?
While LSU has watched the progress it made during Gov. Mike Foster's administration wash away as quickly as the state's coastline, La. Tech in Ruston has held its own. In fact, Tech is showing some life, nudging its way into the ranks of Top Tier universities on U.S. News' prestigious list. For 2014, Tech holds down the 190th spot.
Not bad for a small school nestled in the hills of north Louisiana.
Yet, LSU's plight is quite simple to explain.
The university does not possess the influence it once wielded in the state Legislature, and Gov. Bobby Jindal has not exhibited much interest in doing something about the university's finances. If the governor and the Legislature as a whole don't appreciate the state's Flagship university, where does that leave us?
In a hell of a fix, I'm afraid.
But make no mistake. LSU represents the best Louisiana has to offer.
If we don't preserve the Flagship, what else are we willing to sacrifice?