Commissioner: Higher ed must evolve
In the face of an expected $420 million in cuts, the new commissioner of higher education in Louisiana and the Board of Regents have some recommendations for the state Legislature.

But Commissioner Joseph C. Rallo doesn’t expect the state to be the only one making changes.

“No matter what happens with the Legislature, higher education has to evolve,” Rallo said Monday at a quarterly luncheon of the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. “It cannot look the way it always has.”

That means finding ways to make education more efficient, like customized distance learning programs as well as competency-based education — translating work or military experience into credit hours.
Joseph C. Rallo, commissioner of higher education in

Joseph C. Rallo, commissioner of higher education in Louisiana, discusses recommendations for the state Legislature regarding higher education at a quarterly luncheon of the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance in Alexandria on Monday. (Photo: Leigh Guidry/

Another concept he has seen used successfully is similar to dual enrollment courses but involves deeper partnerships between community colleges and high schools. Students take classes from high school faculty their freshmen and sophomore years and from community college faculty the final two years, graduating with an associate degree.

“These are things that are happening right now but just need to accelerate and be more accessible,” Rallo said.

Some recommendations for state legislators include giving institutions more autonomy when it comes to making purchases or obtaining services. Currently schools are limited by requirements that they use state agencies for audits and worker’s compensation insurance, for example.


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Board of Regents Chairman Roy O. Martin said these changes would give institutions freedom to find more cost-effective rates.

Martin also recommended changing how the state compensates colleges and universities for educating students. University systems receive the same amount per student, but he argued the true cost of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — education is higher than that of a history program due to equipment and technology involved.

More autonomy when it comes to raising tuition also is on the list of recommendations, as is moving the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students out of the higher education budget. The program that covers tuition for Louisiana students that meet certain grade and ACT requirements would remain intact but would not be funded with state higher education dollars.

As state contributions to higher education dwindle, tuition and fees are increased to fill that gap. But raising tuition would be counterproductive for institutions if they also are paying for TOPS students.

Other current conversations surrounding the program include changing eligibility requirements or adding incentives, Rallo said.

Rallo embraced questions about budget cuts Monday, but he said he wants to reorient the conversation to a new vision for higher education, which is crucial to Louisiana.

“We graduate students who take jobs, pay taxes and create new jobs,” he said. “That’s the future of the state, the future of higher education.”