Louisiana’s Fuzzy Math

In the continuing battle over higher education funding in Louisiana, one of Republican Governor Bobby Jindal’s primary weapons was his argument about efficiency.

Why should the state university system be getting so much money from the state (Louisana public universities are among the cheapest in the nation), Jindal asks, if they don’t do a very good job educating students? “As of this May our six-year graduation rate was only 38 percent,” Jindal complained last month. “[That’s] far behind the 53-percent graduation rate for other states in the Southern region.”

Except that Jindal might be wrong. According to a piece by Matthew Albright in the Louisiana State University paper, the Daily Reveille:

These statistics seem bleak, but some administrators say those rates may be deceptive — and don’t apply to LSU’s Baton Rouge campus. LSU-BR boasted a six-year undergraduate graduation rate of 61 percent in 2009, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

While Robert Kuhn, associate vice chancellor of the Office of Budget and Planning, says that number is 10 points lower than the average state flagship institution, it’s higher than the 53 percent Southern average cited in Jindal’s Facebook post and significantly higher than the 38-percent state average Jindal laments.

Now all of this numbers—71, 61, 53, 38—are sort of bad for graduation rates, duly noted Jindal. But as an argument for the privatization of public colleges (their graduation rates are low, therefore the state should give them less money) it looks like Jindal’s trying to pull a fast one.

The fact that the state average for college graduation rates is low doesn’t mean every college is doing a poor job educating its students; it means some of them are. Maybe try to fix the problems where they actually exist rather than using them against every school in the state.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer