A Data Dive Into Louisiana State University (LSU)
Last week, Louisiana State University, more popularly called ‘LSU,’ won the NCAA Division I National Championship in College Football. I cheered on the LSU Tigers this season, even though I have no personal association with the school, or any of their usual sports rivals. I could not help but root for a Louisiana team led by a Cajun head coach and a transfer quarterback from Ohio State.
I have not had the chance to visit LSU, but I have met a few alumni. They seem to love their alma mater, or felt that they had fun there. LSU alumni are fairly loyal. Fourteen percent contribute to their alma mater, tied for second among public universities in the Southeastern Conference with Auburn, Georgia and Texas A&M. Athletics must have something to do with it. Counting last week’s win, LSU has won 48 national team championships in eight NCAA Division 1 sports.
Since I live in New Jersey, and have not had a student apply to LSU, I was curious to learn “how good” this school might be outside of athletics. LSU is not one of the more selective flagship state universities. Around 75 percent of the freshmen who applied each of the last four years were accepted. The average ACT for entering freshmen has remained around 25 for the past 11 years. The average GPA for the class that arrived last year was a 3.4. But more interesting, over a third of those accepted decided to come. The Rutgers-New Brunswick admissions office would be ecstatic if they got a yield like that.
Honors college admissions are more achievable at LSU than many other flagships. The typical applicant has a 3.5+ GPA/30+ ACT or 1360+ SAT. You will likely need a 4.0+/34+/1450+ to get serious consideration from their admissions committee to get serious consideration for honors at Penn State or Rutgers.
What else has LSU done as a school, with respect to enrollment, costs, housing, retention and graduation rates?
- It has grown its freshmen class each year for the past three years. In 2017 LSU had just over 4,900 freshmen. This fall there were more than 6,100.
- The university has managed undergraduate tuition and fee charges very well over the past four years. Louisiana residents in the current senior class paid just under $11,000 when they arrived on campus as freshmen. Four years later, they were charged just under $12,000. Their total cost of attendance has risen on average, by less than $1,000 per year. Non-Resident seniors were charged just under $28,000 as freshmen; they were asked to pay just under $29,000 four years later. Most flagship state schools of LSU’s size charge non-residents $30,000 or more.
- The larger merit awards are quite generous for residents and non-residents. These academic rides are actually more generous than a full athletic scholarship. Louisiana’s Taylor Opportunity Program Scholarships (TOPS) may cover nearly three-quarters of tuition and fees for qualified residents.
- Nearly 60 percent of LSU seniors graduated with no student loan debt in 2018 incredible for any university, let alone the flagship for a state. On average, they owed just under $27,000, the maximum that they could borrowed over four years through the Federal Student Loan Program.
- This fall, LSU was able to house 7,600 students, over a quarter of the undergraduate student body. Over the past 25 years the university had never come close to accommodating this many students.
- Freshman retention has remained around the same for the past 11 years—around 84 percent—but the four-year graduation rate has risen from 38 to 42 percent. Improvement is good, but more is better. If LSU graduates at least half of its freshmen on time, like arch-rival Alabama, the students who took out loans would owe less.
Given grades, test scores, the yield rate and selectivity, LSU appears to be an attractive option for a B/B+ student. It’s also good that the university appears to be concerned about accessibility and costs. But LSU needs to invest more to retain a freshman class and raise graduation rates. The school becomes a much better value, and attracts better students, when prospects feel confident that the school will support them.
LSU has about the same number of undergraduates as Temple University in Philadelphia. Temple’s efforts under the banner ‘Fly in Four’ have raised four-year graduation rates from 44 percent for the class that arrived in 2011 to 56 percent for the class that arrived in 2015. Temple charges more, has less generous scholarships, and is located in a less generous state for college costs. Yet the university improved academic advising, added course sections, and offers emergency grants to help their students graduate on time.
Fly in Four has not only helped to improve Temple’s retention and graduation rates; it has also helped Temple to attract more students from outside Pennsylvania. LSU freshmen could benefit from a similar program, but so could future Tigers, wherever they may live. LSU attracts students not only from Louisiana, but also from Georgia and Texas, larger states with extremely selective flagship universities. LSU is a less expensive alternative to Auburn or University of Alabama. Its alumni base is strong in the major cities in both states. There are over 14,000 Tigers in Houston, nearly 8,000 in Dallas-Ft. Worth, and there are over 4,000 in and around Atlanta.
The athletes on full rides at LSU may get a “redshirt” fifth year to help them complete their degrees. I’m sure that most other LSU students are not so lucky. They want to become proud alumni. But they would likely feel prouder if it was easier to graduate on time.