By Kevin Shannahan/Opinion
Now that Dr. Maggio has been named President of Northwestern State University, an opportunity presents itself. It is a new day. Let us make the most of it. The environment NSU finds itself in is challenging, to say the least. Our state’s economy is far from healthy. Louisiana’s budget situation, seldom good, is nearing disaster. The TOPS program was not fully funded for the first time in the program’s history, a truly ominous sign of Louisiana’s fiscal distress.
To further complicate matters, our state’s population is shrinking and on average, growing older. The number of young people in the traditional college age group is shrinking. When you consider the state’s alarming drop out rate, the pool of young people who are ready and able to handle college level work is further constrained. Louisiana losing a Congressional seat in the last census due to population loss was more than a political disaster, it was a grim portent in a number of areas.
Given that these are but a few of the challenges facing NSU and Dr. Maggio as he takes over the helm of the university, what steps can we take to insure that our university survives and flourishes in this uncertain time?
NSU is not without resources and strengths. The faculty and staff are remarkably loyal to the university. This has enabled NSU to weather budget cuts to a great degree. The Louisiana Scholar’s College is a treasure and an underutilized asset, The university’s College of Creative and Performing Arts is likewise an underutilized asset of the university. Its students are tremendously talented and its productions are superb by any standard. It is truly remarkable that a small regional university in rural North Louisiana has consistently maintained such a record of quality over the years.
Quite simply, the best defense is a good offense. What are recognized standards of excellence? I would like to see NSU pursue measurable criteria for success.
Northwestern State University should become a serious contender for the Rhodes, Marshall, Truman and Fullbright awards, with an eye to fielding applicants in 2 years and winning at least one in 5 years. These scholarships are a recognized standard of excellence all over the world. Take a look at the incoming LSC freshmen as well as incoming NSU students with a 25+ ACT or its SAT equivalent. Gather them together and tell them something along the lines of “Ladies and gentlemen, your university is about to do something extraordinary and we need your help.” It will take money, time and guidance, but I have every confidence the students would rise to the challenge.
National Merit Scholarship winners, semi-finalists and finalists: The Louisiana Scholar’s College offers a superb and unique educational experience with its combination of a Great Books Curriculum, math and science courses as well as the chance to earn any major offered at NSU. Combined with its modest cost and NSU’s beautiful location, there is no reason LSC can’t attract more of these quality students that is presently the case.
Medical, Law and professional schools: Not every NSU graduate will pursue further education after leaving the university. Even so, admittance into Medical and quality law and graduate programs are a bottom line measure of how well NSU prepares its graduates. This calls for a two pronged approach. First, celebrate and publicize what our present students achieve. Any NSU or LSC student who earns acceptance into a US or Canadian medical or dental school needs to be publicized as does any student who is admitted into a T-14 law school or well regarded graduate program. If the CAPA has a student accepted into Julliard, NSU should publicize it. The Athletic Department does an excellent job of this with its “Demon of the Week.” The lead in our next production, a NSU graduate starting medical school or students achieving in any number of areas – the university should celebrate and encourage excellence in every area.
The second part of the approach is to cultivate and nurture the students as they move through NSU. The university should set as a goal that in 5 years NSU students and graduates who take the following tests: the MCAT for medical school, the LSAT for law school and the GRE for graduate school will achieve a score that is at, or above, the 85th percentile of scores for that test.
This is part and parcel of NSU’s mission as a regional university. It is to take the students where they are and show them what is possible. In the words of a Scholar’s College Freshman from Natchitoches “There a whole world out there.” There is indeed.