OUR VIEW: Big shoes to fill at NSU

A decade passed, and it’s the end of an era at Nicholls State University.

Dr. Stephen Hulbert, a “damn Yankee,” as he claims a prominent businessman referred to him upon his assumption of Nicholls’ presidency, will retire Aug. 1. He has opened the door for the governing University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors to name the school’s fifth president.

Yankee or not, Hulbert ushered a period of growth at Nicholls through tumultuous times.

Ten hurricanes and a 50 percent cut in state funding over five years: He’ll remind audiences of these hurdles while not using them as crutches. He’d prefer – when not questioning the state’s commitment to education – to point to how Nicholls has evolved.

As the university was faced with cutting programs, it reached an arrangement with Fletcher Technical Community College, which absorbed remedial and core classes with the promise they would be transferrable, minimizing the loss of opportunity for the region. Hulbert and Fletcher Chancellor Travis Lavigne deserve heaps of credit for this move, which we hope set the table for an enhanced partnership to come.

Nicholls’ transition into selective admissions is seen one of Hulbert’s keystone accomplishments. With a renewed interest to link state support and university autonomy with graduation rates, it has already proven to be a heady business move.

But, as we reported today, school officials at the K-12 and post-secondary levels are still wary the standards could squeeze place-bound students from immediate entry into the regional four-year college. The standards aren’t above the moon by any means, yet they will inevitably divert some Nicholls-wanting students to Fletcher.

From there, goals can change. Why spend more time and money to pursue two more years of school when a $60,000 job beckons?

There’s also the elephant in the room: Nicholls has and likely will continue to rely more heavily upon tuition. It’s hard to imagine state support to the university will stop declining, let alone be restored. How many more faculty positions can the school eliminate before it needs to fundamentally alter its mission?

What’s good for Nicholls is typically good for Lafourche, Terrebonne, St. Mary and the seven other parishes it draws from. The same can be said for Fletcher, which has laid the foundation – and has room to grow – into a legitimate oilfield feeder facility at its new facility in Schriever.

To continue Fletcher’s evolution into a starting point rather than a finishing point benefits both schools, students at every level and the region at large.

Although the Bayou Region is sometimes wary of outsiders, the UL System has proven it is not shy to hire them. That is a good thing, obviously.

We urge, however, that an authentic desire to continue developing the inter-school and –sector relationship Hulbert and Fletcher Chancellor Travis Lavigne forged be near the top of the system board’s wish list.

Fletcher and Nicholls are inexorably linked because of their shared service region, one driven by an economy unique to many places throughout the United States.

As the Hulbert era ends, it’s imperative his legacy is built upon.