Others say that could be the death of an institution that traditionally has been all-embracing.
The discussion is just starting, Mason said: “I’m not saying we’re going to become Yale or Harvard, and there’s no plan in place yet, it’s just a vision.”
His vision is based on two facts: Louisiana has been raising standards for college admission and it’s been giving schools less public money, forcing them to rely more heavily on tuition to survive.
This means that state policy is causing a shift in Southern’s traditional model - serving students who don’t have a lot of college options.
“Because we are more tuition dependent, we need to focus on students who are better prepared out of high school,” Mason said. “The state is going to higher standards, which means we have to get more rigorous over time.”
Mason anticipates a move to fewer students but higher tuition.
“Preparation level is tied to income. That’s a fact,” he said. “Southern has to keep up. We may have to become more rigorous if we want to compete at the highest levels.”
Southern currently requires a 2.0 high school grade-point-average and a 20 out of a possible 36 on the ACT standardized test. This puts it on par with several other universities around the state including Southeastern University, in Hammond, Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, and McNeese State University in Lake Charles.
“I want prosperity for the university. If that’s what it takes for a better future, then by all means,” Wiggins said.
But Wiggins added that he worries what Mason’s plan would mean for a university struggling to turn around several years of declining enrollment. Those enrollment declines, coupled with six straight years of state budget cuts, have led to shaky finances, program closings and staff layoffs.
Throughout the country, historically black colleges and universities, commonly called HBCUs, are facing the same dire situation. Enrollment is drying up, and many lack the deep reservoir of alumni giving that the country’s major institutions have built over the years.
Established during the decades following the Civil War, HBCUs were created exclusively to educate black people when other schools wouldn’t. They held a strong position in the black community through the 1960s, after predominantly white institutions started accepting black students.