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September 29th, 2016

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


If you want to know what’s really important in Louisiana, just check out the front pages of newspapers across the state. There was a lot going on this past week, such as the presidential debate, the U.S. Senate race, climbing crime rates in several Louisiana cities, and the heightened rhetoric over deteriorating race relations from Shreveport to Baton Rouge. But the lead story that dominated all news outlets across the state was all about the firing of a football coach.

LSU head football coach Les Miles lost his job, which really was not much of a surprise for LSU fans considering a dismal loss to Auburn in the final second. Actually, LSU scored what fans though was the winning touchdown on the game’s final play, but the ball was snapped one second too late. If the Tigers had won the game, the mad hatter might have held his job for a few more games, but his star had lost its luster and there was little doubt his days were numbered.

The joke going around the web by the Tiger faithful was that it was time to trade in the old truck and get a new truck. Why? Les Miles. Demanding success on the football field is a way of life for many Tiger fans, and thus the screaming headlines that dominated the state’s news. Miles’ buyout will cost LSU over $10 million.

Now dial back a few weeks to the middle of September. U.S. News and World Report issued its latest annual ranking of top colleges all over the country. It should have been a big story for Louisiana colleges, particularly at LSU, the state’s flagship university. How did LSU rank compared to other colleges throughout the nation and particularly those schools in the SEC? There was nary a word about the report in the statewide press. The Advocate in Baton Rouge did run a short story about the rankings, but it was buried at the bottom of page three. How does LSU rank compared to is peers? Yawn. Little or no interest.

So here goes all you taxpayers that pour millions into LSU. The Flagship was listed as only the 135th best college in the U.S., a drop of six spots from last year. Ten other Southeastern Conference colleges were ranked ahead of LSU, including Vanderbilt (15th), Florida (50th), and Georgia (56th), (Texas A&M (74th), Auburn (99th) and football rival Alabama (103rd). LSU also fell behind Tennessee, South Carolina, Missouri and   Kentucky. As folks continually say down here in the Bayou state, thank God for Mississippi as LSU nudged out Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

And that ranking is the good news. The Wall Street Journal, in its new rankings released just this week, listed LSU as number 441st in the nation. Every SEC school except Mississippi State was well ahead in ratings.

So how did the LSU leadership respond? It’s all about money said President King Alexander. What he failed to acknowledge was that the university’s national rankings were not much better when tax dollars were flush. Saying, “give us more money and we will soar in the rankings” is a cop out.

Just how bad is the financial situation at LSU? A large majority of undergraduates receive free tuition through the Taylor scholarship program. Tuition at LSU is $9,842, lower than a majority of schools in the SEC. Alabama, for example, charges $10,470, Auburn is at $10,696, Tennessee charges $12,668 and Georgia students pay $11,624.

The average teacher’s salary at LSU, with benefits, is one of the highest in the SEC coming in at $158,500. Auburn’s averages $149,800, Florida pays $156,400. Georgia professors average $153,800 and Arkansas pays $150,000. So tuition is low or free and professors are paid above average.

Sure higher education is in a pinch in Louisiana. But schools like LSU can shoulder a good part of the blame. A number of colleges receive as much as one third of their budget from the school’s endowment. Money raising is big business at most universities, and LSU has a long list of wealthy alumni. But until recently, asking for endowment dollars has been an afterthought by university officials. A majority of SEC schools have endowments that far outpace LSU.

So there is lower than average tuition, free tuition for many, better than average faculty salaries, and a weak track record in money raising. Higher education, particularly at the state’s flagship, needs strong and continuing financial support from the legislature. But colleges have a significant role to play in in raising endowment funds and better managing the annual budgeted funds paid by taxpayers. Just asking for more money won’t get the job done.


Half the crowd in Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night can’t even spell LSU.”

      James Carville

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.

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