Diversity makes universities stronger

Diversity makes universities stronger

The student body of Louisiana’s flagship university has historically not reflected the racial composition of the state it serves. For Louisiana State University President F. King Alexander, this is a problem that needs immediate attention. The Hechinger Report’s Casey Parks dives in:

Flagship universities across the country have struggled to diversify their ranks. For the third year in a row, a Hechinger Report analysis of national data has found more than a third of U.S. states with at least a 10-point gap between the percentage of their public high school graduates who are African-American and the percentage of their flagships’ freshman class who are African-American. Alexander believed that many flagships were “moving in the wrong direction.” Since 2010, more than a third of state flagship universities have posted declines in the percentage of African-American freshman they enrolled. In Mississippi, the number of black freshmen declined by more than 100 students and 6 percentage points between 2010 and 2016. Ole Miss did add black freshmen in 2015, but black enrollment at both the universities of Alabama and Missouri have continued to fall.

The article discusses Stewart Lockett’s journey to LSU, where he became the third black student body president in the history of the university.

The university was just an hour and a half away from Lockett’s home in New Iberia, a midsized Cajun town that is roughly half black and half white. But Lockett said his guidance counselors never encouraged him to apply to LSU. Instead, he said, they gave him brochures for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, a nearby institution whose population is a fifth African-American, and they told him about Xavier University, a historically black school in New Orleans, “because I was premed, and I was black.”

This article shows how students of color are steered away from flagship universities and what needs to be done to change that.


SNAP at risk in House budget
No agency in state government has seen steeper cuts over the past decade than the Department of Children and Family Services. Secretary Marketa Walters told the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday that a $13 million shortfall in next year’s budget would force her to shut down the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Sam Karlin of The Advocate was there:

The budget being proposed by House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, would keep the agency’s funding the same as last year. That’s because the budget does not include additional money that Gov. John Bel Edwards wants to be recognized. House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, has blocked recommendations by economists to increase the state’s revenue projections, which would give the state roughly $140 million more in money to spend on services. Henry’s budget keeps funding levels the same as last year, but DCFS is facing mandated cost increases from things like lease payments and an increase in need for specialized foster care funding. That has led to a $13 million difference between the proposed budget and her agency’s needs, Walters said. “I cannot and will not cut child welfare one nickel,” Walters said, citing the “life and death” consequences of doing so. “Our case loads are crippling.”

Things may be looking up for the department after the Revenue Estimating Conference ended a months-long stalemate this morning by recognizing an additional $229 million in revenue for the current and upcoming fiscal years.


Prison reform must continue
Louisiana has made great strides in reducing its prison population, and is no longer the incarceration capital of the country. But according to Alanah Odoms Hebert, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, there is still work to be done. In a guest column in The Advocate, Hebert discusses what steps Louisiana needs to take to cut our prison population in half:

For example, Louisiana is one of only two states that mandate life sentences without parole for people charged with second-degree murder. This is one reason why one in five people imprisoned in Louisiana is over the age of 50. This needs to change. It’s time for the Legislature to pass reforms that will give people a chance to demonstrate rehabilitation and be reunited with their families. Louisiana’s draconian so-called “habitual offender” law is another major driver of mass incarceration that must be reformed. Nearly three of every four people admitted to prison under this law were convicted of a drug or property crime as their primary offense. We can’t imprison our way out of problems like poverty and addiction. Removing nonviolent offenses from the habitual offender law should be at the top of the Legislature’s to-do list this year.


You can’t fix work requirements
Being poor is hard. A person making minimum wage in Louisiana likely starts their day praying their car starts so they can get to work because most towns have limited or no public transportation. If they can’t get to work, they can’t put food on the table. They may have limited childcare options, limited access to internet and navigate multiple safety net systems for SNAP and Medicaid assistance. Missing work due to a sick child or broken car could lead to losing their job. And if politicians impose work requirements as a condition of receiving benefits, it could also lead to them losing their health insurance. A new paper by consulting firm ideas42 looks at work requirements from a behavioral science perspective, and concludes that they simply add to the burden of being poor. Judith Soloman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities discusses the paper in a blog:

Behavioral science teaches that everyone has limited attention and cognitive bandwidth, but people living in poverty face chronic scarcity, which forces them simultaneously to manage multiple challenging problems and requires enormous mental effort. Taking behavioral science research into account, ideas42 researchers found that reducing poverty requires, among other factors, cutting costs by reducing hassles and complexity and building a cushion of time, money, attention, and other resources. But work requirements do the opposite by adding hassles and complexity, thereby increasing the cognitive costs of participating in Medicaid and other safety net programs. They also force people to make impossible choices between meeting these new requirements to stay covered or taking care of their other needs.


Number of the Day
67 percent – The percent of Louisiana’s incarcerated population that is African American, compared to  33 percent of Louisiana’s general population. (Source: The Advocate)