Commissioner Rallo: Higher Education Lags in Louisiana

By Colvin, Beth | Phi Kappa Phi Forum, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

Commissioner Rallo: Higher Education Lags in Louisiana


Colvin, Beth, Phi Kappa Phi Forum


For Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph C. Rallo (Western Illinois University), actions speak louder than words.

Louisiana is fiftieth in the nation when it comes to funding higher education.

"I'm always told higher ed is a priority," he said. "But if you look at the funding for higher education, we get about $3,000 per student. If you are an incarcerated adult, it's about $16,000 from the state. And if you are an incarcerated youth, it's about $37,000. Business and industry does not come to Louisiana because we have the highest incarceration rate in the country; they come here because we have a trained and educated workforce, which is really being challenged."

Higher education in the Bayou State has endured at least fourteen midyear budget cuts as well as end-of-year cuts, and while most of the other states' higher education systems are recovering nicely from the 2008 recession, Louisiana still lags behind. Still, for the former president of Angelo State University in Texas and vice chancellor for academic affairs in the Texas Tech system, this job is the "icing on the cake."

"We still have excellent universities and great value," Rallo said, despite the challenges. "It's still a great value."

Rallo's career started out on the regular arc of academia. He holds a bachelor's in Russian history from Lafayette College, a juris doctorate from Western New England University, and a master's and Ph.D. in international relations from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

He was on the faculty at Rutgers University in 1980 when his smooth arc took a turn. Rallo entered the Navy and became an intelligence officer. He spent almost ten years in active duty in the Navy and Air Force before returning to his academic career and joining the reserves.

"I tell students or leadership groups, you have to be willing to take a chance," he said. "Now a lot of people, particularly in higher ed, get so cloistered. They think all there is is a position --and remember what I said about tenure-track positions going away?--so it was the best decision I ever made. I think it made me a better person to have both the academic and the military, which come together oftentimes in leadership types of things."

Academia, so often, he says, has such a linear way of looking at things that it misses the bigger picture entirely. And higher education, he says, is going to need some big-picture thinking.

In the future, higher education will face an increasing divide of wealth in which smaller, regional schools will suffer from state disinvestment in higher education and the public perception that education is a private good. Furthermore, higher education will have to weather challenges from alternative paths to education, such as industry-based certification programs and competency-based education. …

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