Virtually every state has an institution that is considered its flagship university. The flagships are the states’ premier research and doctoral institutions and are considered to be in the upper tier of universities designated by national accrediting agencies.
In Louisiana, that institution is LSU. Flagship universities in most states help drive their economies, often acting as partners in efforts to diversify and modernize job markets and enhance business growth. In a recent survey of large businesses in the south, the Southern Growth Policies Board reported that employers say the most important role a university can play to boost the economy is to produce well-educated graduate students and undergraduates. Employers around the nation continue to rate LSU graduates among the top in many fields. Coupled with quality research and development, significant federal grants, commercialization and incubation centers, LSU and other top tier universities play an important role in building and diversifying their state economies.
But in spite of its standing and mission, LSU has traditionally ranked low among similar institutions in the southeast on state funding per full-time student. In recent years funding has risen, so much so that in 2008 for the first time ever, LSU entered the top tier ranking in U.S. News & World Report’s annual review. This was a major step forward for all of our state.
Unfortunately, recent budget cuts and those proposed for the next few years threaten that important accomplishment. This is especially troubling since Louisiana ranks relatively low in knowledge-based jobs compared to other southern states that have increased their support for quality R&D programs. It may take years for our research universities and centers to recover from deep funding cuts, making it harder for our state to improve economic indicators like those achieved by North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia.
Still, LSU arguably fulfills its flagship role well compared to similar regional institutions such as the University of Alabama, the University of Mississippi, the University of Kentucky, the University of Georgia, the University of South Carolina, Oklahoma State University and Texas A&M. But Louisiana’s flagship has set a more ambitious goal to reach the higher national peer university status enjoyed by schools such as Ohio State University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Texas–Austin, and the University of Virginia.
Clearly, this comes with a price tag but the payoff is increased excellence at every level including research, faculty, and graduate and undergraduate students. To achieve this goal LSU must receive appropriate funding from state government primarily, but also from tuition, federal grants and private alumni dollars.
Among other objectives, LSU must:
- Continue to raise admission standards
- Increase recruitment for competitive faculty
- Increase research
- Improve facilities, equipment and technology
- Increase patents, copyrights and partnerships in commercialization, among other objectives
- Achieve measurable outcomes to judge success in reaching national status
So, why is this so important? Because investing in LSU to reach national peer status will result in more benefits for the entire state, not the least of which is to help build a stronger knowledge-based environment. In doing so, Louisiana will be able to keep and educate more of our best and brightest young people and attract highly-educated students, researchers and teachers from other places. This is something sorely needed to help reverse our historically high outmigration rate.
It will also help build national centers of research excellence that can address some of Louisiana’s toughest problems such as poor health outcomes, coastal erosion, hurricane response, K-12 teacher quality and applied technology for an array of industries including maritime, agriculture, fisheries, energy and many others. So, in this time of budget cuts, priorities and strategic investments for Louisiana’s flagship university must be protected to the degree possible. Across the board budget cuts in higher education may be the easy way but it’s not the right way. An investment in the state’s flagship university is an investment in ourselves and Louisiana’s future.