Last week, the HBCU Digest published a story on the University System of Louisiana’s new framework to produce a collective 20 percent increase in the number of graduates it yields by 2025, with a focus on enrolling and graduating more of the region’s low-income and minority students.
That increase, 150,000 new grads over eight years and spread out among nine schools, presents each school with a charge to graduate 2,083 students per year. That math is something UL System leadership acknowledges as a valid data point, but which Grambling State University President Rick Gallot dismissed last week as “fake news.” From the Ruston Daily Leader:
A recent report by HBCU Digest, a website dedicated to HBCU schools, recently reported that Grambling State would have to “nearly triple” the amount of graduates in order to keep pace with the UL System’s goal.
Gallot said there was never any discussion by any of the university presidents of what type of formula would need to be followed in order to reach that goal.
“That was (hashtag) fake news,” he said. “They’re methodology of that was created from thin air.”
However, in order to reach that goal, all nine universities, including Grambling State, would have to retain students until graduation.
According to 2015-16 federal education reports, not only is the data real – the UL’s graduation increase plan has already been met by two member schools, with three other UL institutions producing more than 80 percent of the aspirational goal of 2,083 graduates per year.
In fact, Grambling is the only UL institution which has posted less than 50 percent of the annual per-campus number.
Total UL System Degrees Awarded Between July 2015-June 2016
Univ. of Louisiana – Lafayette – 3,303 – Goal surpassed
Southeastern Louisiana University – 2,182 – Goal surpassed
Northwestern State University – 1,855 – 89 percent of annual goal
University of New Orleans – 1,784 – 85 percent of annual goal
Louisiana Tech University – 1,732 – 83 percent of annual goal
McNeese State University -1,482 – 71 percent of goal
Nicholls State University – 1,354 – 65 percent of goal
University of Louisiana – Monroe – 1,346 – 64 percent of goal
Grambling State University – 726 – 34 percent of goal
In looking at graduation rates for African American students at all nine schools, Grambling is among the top third of the system’s output.
Total UL System Graduation Rates for Black Students (2010 Cohort 6-Year Graduation Rate)
UL Monroe – 37 percent
Louisiana Tech – 37 percent
Grambling State – 36 percent
UL – Lafayette – 34 percent
Southeastern Louisiana – 32 percent
Nicholls State – 30 percent
UNO – 29 percent
McNeese State – 28 percent
Northwestern State – 27 percent
And among the system’s commitment to low-income students, Grambling is the overwhelming leader.
Percentage of first-time, full-time students awarded Pell Grants July 2015-June 2016
Grambling State – 85 percent
UNO – 50 percent
Northwestern State – 50 percent
Southeastern Louisiana – 46 percent
UL-Monroe – 43 percent
Nicholls State – 40 percent
McNeese State – 39 percent
UL-Lafayette – 36 percent
Louisiana Tech – 33 percent
It is clear that Louisiana could and should do more to educate its under-represented student populations, and that Grambling does the heaviest lifting in ensuring success for those students. But the system is not basing its ambitious graduation increase plan on work that is reflective of Grambling’s mission – it is based upon a raw number of graduates that the UL System projects it can produce.
And based on that projected number and current trends, Grambling could potentially emerge as the lowest performing member of the system’s new commitment to long-ignored student groups. Don’t forget – this is a system which has shuffled 10 presidents in and out of Grambling in 25 years with the last president being named without a formal search.
This is a system which, in tandem with state lawmakers, allowed Grambling facilities to fall into such disrepair that the university library had to be abandoned earlier this year.
But worst of all, this is a system where Grambling leadership apparently believes that advocates of Grambling have forgotten the sins of the past, and cannot do basic math or data searches. In a Twitter exchange I had along with Grambling alumnus Dr. Fredrick Pinkney, UL System President Jim Henderson over the weekend affirmed the plan and suggested that Grambling could exceed the 20 percent goal.
@JLCS06 Expectations are high for all of our schools. GSU is essential to realizing our system goals and, as important, reaching LA’s potential.
@UppityNegreaux @HBCUDigest The nine universities will produce 150k graduates by 2025, a 20% increase over current levels. Each school will use that to shape its plans.
@UppityNegreaux @HBCUDigest The framework is first step in a process. It does provide a systemic aspiration (+20%) that will aid our universities in establishing goals.
@JLCS06 @Grambling1901 There is no ambiguity. The system-level framework will shape planning at our universities. It provides a context. The specificity follows.
@JLCS06 @Grambling1901 We collectively share the aspiration. Missions of our universities are not identical. Would not be surprised if GSU exceeds 20%.
Nothing about the trends, the money or the leadership suggests that any of this could be remotely true over the next eight years. And instead of rallying GSU students, alumni and stakeholders to question the system about its plans or to offer alternatives, Gallot is busy decrying real numbers as fake news and cheering on a nearly impossible goal established by a system which, all except for Grambling, is already more than halfway there.
Every indication about this framework suggests that the UL System and lawmakers will have more data to make a stronger case against Grambling as a school with competitive programs and reliable metrics of success. More than the GRAD Act, more than TOPPS Scholarships redirecting students away from HBCUs, this is the first time we have seen a state system planning to take on elements of HBCU enrollment and graduation strategies, while showing through data that its sole HBCU is among the worst at executing the same.
It will not take much for other institution leaders to lobby against Grambling, considering that the only thing it does better than or equal to other schools in the UL System is enroll poor students.
And years from now, when reports come out and state appropriations are attached to their results, Grambling will not be able to make the case against the data because Gallot is now supporting plans which suggest the schools as equal partners; in spite of historic funding disparities and executive interference which have crippled the school for decades in competitiveness and public branding.
Maybe the UL System wants to do better with Grambling. Given the data and the history of GSU’s treatment, how many of you want to join Gallot in taking that bet?