Four decades on state’s higher education board

By: Ken Grissom
BATON ROUGE – Richard E. D’Aquin of Lafayette said goodbye to the Louisiana Board of Regents Thursday, Jan. 27, after four decades helping to shepherd higher education in the state.

In his farewell remarks, D’Aquin recounted the history and accomplishments of the board he has been a member of since its inception.

“Prior to the adoption of our current state constitution in 1974, higher education was governed much differently,” he said. The Constitution of 1921 established two governing boards. There was the LSU Board which managed LSU and its branch campuses, and the State Board of Education, which administered eight state institutions of higher education as well as elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools and trade schools. This was not a very effective structure because these boards were concerned with the details of running their schools, not statewide goals or coordination.”

D’Aquin, a businessman and for many years publisher of the Lafayette Advertiser, was first appointed to the State Board of Education in 1972.

By then the burgeoning enrollment caused when the “baby boomers” reached college age began to seriously tax the system. In the decade of the ’60s, college enrollment more than doubled, going from 46,000 to 108,000.

“The proliferation of students led to a proliferation of institutions and unbridled expansion of missions,” D’Aquin said. “Campuses had an ‘all-in-one’ approach with missions that ranged from developmental education to doctorates.”

Gov. John McKeithen’s Coordinating Commission on Higher Education was an attempt in 1968 to form the state’s first master plan for higher education, D’Aquin said. It fell short but did succeed in establishing a framework for the creation of the Board of Regents.

“During the Constitutional Convention of 1973 called by former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards, the delegates were clear that they wanted to create a board with significant self-implementing authority to develop a statewide plan for the overall direction of higher education in the state,” he said. “They wanted a board that was focused on the state’s needs and not just politically driven interests.”

From the Master Plan of 1977, which began establishing different missions for different institutions, through desegregation and the lean years of the 1980s and early ’90s, to the dawn of a new era as technology and international trade began to put a premium on an educated workforce, D’Aquin outlined some of the accomplishments of the Board of Regents:

•In 1986, the LEQTF, also known as the 8(g) fund, put $541 million from a settlement with the federal government over oil and gas revenues into trust, the earnings from which are divided between the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and the Board of Regents.

•The board oversaw the development of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System focusing on workforce training.

•The board provided for a greater range of missions among institutions while at the same time improved articulation between them.

•Attacked “diploma mills” with policy and law.

•Worked with BESE to redesign the high school curriculum to better prepare students for college and implemented nationally lauded teacher education reforms.

•Instituted long-distance learning, developed a statewide library network and programs for adult learners and low-income students.

•Oversaw the second best improvement in retention rates in the U.S., fourth-best graduation rate improvement in the nation, and second-best in improvement in number of degrees and certificates awarded.

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