Proposed University Merger Riles New Orleans
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Now, a story about education, race, politics and budgets in New Orleans.
Louisiana's Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, is considering a move to merge two struggling universities there - historically black Southern University at New Orleans and the largely white University of New Orleans. Both schools have seen their enrollments drop in recent years and their graduation rates are dismal by just about any standard. But the president of the historically black Southern system said he was shocked by the idea to essentially remove one of its three campuses.
For more on what the move would mean for the city of New Orleans and for the nationwide network of historically black colleges and universities, we're joined now by Katie Mangan. She's in Austin, Texas, where she is national correspondent for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Welcome to the program.
Ms. KATIE MANGAN (National Correspondent, Chronicle for Higher Education): Thank you.
SIEGEL: And, first, a bit more context here. When we say, very low, dismal graduation rates, what are we talking about?
Ms. MANGAN: Well, in the case of Southern University at New Orleans, the most recent rate was five percent. And, of course that's over a six-year period. Southern University will say that that was at a time when the university was hard hit by Hurricane Katrina. But also, they'll point out that at many historically black colleges, the typical student is someone who's older, who's possibly married, working full time and they may attend college more sporadically, be in and out of college and having to leave for a while to earn money and come back.
And, also, because many of the historically black colleges have fewer financial resources, there is often less money available for scholarships. So, students sometimes have to drop out for financial reasons. But even taking that into consideration, I think most schools that have rates as low as Southern University know that they have to do whatever they can to increase them or their state funding and possibly federal funding is going to be at risk.
SIEGEL: And the University of New Orleans, not a historically black college, their rate is not as low as five percent, but it's not that great either.
Ms. MANGAN: It's not that great, no. It's, I think, somewhere in the area of 22 percent.
SIEGEL: Now, given the squeeze that most states and localities are facing in their budgets nowadays, I'm trying to put myself in the position of Governor Jindal. You look at two colleges very close to each other, neither one with terribly successful numbers, a nearby community college, I gather, that's bursting at the seams. There's - enrollment is way up and the idea of merging them seems to have a certain attraction. How common is that idea to merge local campuses?
Ms. MANGAN: It's becoming increasingly common. And, again, in states that are facing financial crises, this is something that lawmakers are increasingly looking to, to see if there's some ways that they can combine campuses and consolidate. But any time you start talking about eliminating a historically black college, a lot of people get upset. There's going to be a lot of lobbying to try to block this.
SIEGEL: This speaks to a larger issue within the historically black college and university community, which has been struggling to keep up standards and attract talented black students who can now choose Harvard or Stanford over Fisk or Spellman or Howard.
Ms. MANGAN: Yes, I think that's right. I think black students have so many more options today than they did back in the '60s or '70s, and as a result, the percentage of black students who are attending historically black colleges has decreased quite a bit. And that, you know, of course, has caused somewhat of a rift within the black community, just sort of looking at what is the overall value of a historically black college and, you know, how can you justify continuing colleges when you have some sort of duplication with other public colleges nearby?
SIEGEL: Well, Katie Mangan, thank you very much for talking with us.
Ms. MANGAN: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Katie Mangan is a national correspondent based in Austin, Texas for the Chronicle of Higher Education.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.