By Rodrick Anderson
Southwest Daily News
McNeese State University turned his life around and now Wade Rousse wants to make sure the university can continue to change lives.
Rousse, the Vice President for University Advancement, spoke at the monthly luncheon of the West Cal Chamber of Commerce Thursday at the West Cal Events Center.
“McNeese State University and a coach by the name of Sonny Jackson changed my life,” Rousse said. “It gave me an opportunity to realize that there was a better way.
“I am proud of my family. They were great fishermen, none of them had an education.”
Rousse grew up in Golden Meadows and had many struggles early in his life.
“The journey begins with a dad that is in and out of my life, a mom that gets pregnant in high school with one dream — that her son would have a better life than she did. From the time that we would eat breakfast and dinner the conversation was never about “Are you going to college?” The conversation was what are you going to study in college. I was so ignorant I didn’t realize how poor we were. We were so poor, I joke all the time that we couldn’t pay attention.”
He almost quit school when head football coach Sonny Jackson was fired in 1989, but Jackson wouldn’t let him.
“I got here, coach gets fired after a couple of years, so I do what every little cajun boy does — quit and go work offshore,” Rousse said. “And Sonny Jackson found out about that.
“One thing I always was, and my mom made me, I was a good student. He said that if I ever hear you say you are going to quit school again I am going to whip your …. And I believed them. He said you can quit football, you are not real good. Two masters degrees and a doctorate later, teaching at Chicago and Northwestern, running the financial markets group at the (Chicago) Federal Reserve.”
After more than two decades of teaching at multiple universities, working in the financial sector, McNeese President Dr. Daryl Burckel convinced Rousse to come back to McNeese.
“I get here and Dr. Burckel basically says, ‘Listen we got a battle. You talk about how this place changed your life, if we don’t make some bold decisions it is not going to change anybody’s life. So I need you to come home and take the half-price special and let’s change this place’,” Rousse said.
Funding is one of the major issues facing higher education these days. Rousse said the rapidly rising balance sheet (debt) of the Federal Reserve is negatively affecting the strength of the current economic recovery.
He doesn’t expect state funding to increase anytime soon. According to Rousse, 90 percent of McNeese’s operating budget comes from tuition and private funding with 10 percent coming from the state of Louisiana.
“We have been beaten up,” Rousse said. “We ain’t given up.
“I like where we are going. We are just not going to depend on the state. We have to find other ways.”
Rousse has been focusing on four core areas to better position the university for the future — alternative revenue generation, community engagement, fundraising, and student engagement.
Rousse feels that despite the recent calamities that the university has had to deal with between hurricanes and COVID-19, that it can survive. He said there could be a contraction of the number of state-funded four-year universities in the future.
“I think that we are in the right place at the right time to make sure that lives get changed for generations to come,” Rousse. “I am here to tell you that not every university in Louisiana is going to survive.
“The demographics are shifting, we don’t have as many high school graduates and we have way too many universities. Together we can put a team together and make sure we advance this institution, not only to survive, we want to thrive. We want to win. We want to be the best in the entire system when it comes to placement rates and starting salaries of any other university in the system.”
Also at the West Cal Chamber of Commerce meeting, two monthly awards were given out.
Bryan Lynn received the Customer Service Award. Lynn was hired in May of 2019 as an overnight staff worker at Planet Fitness in Sulphur and worked his way up to team lead manager and assistant to the club manager.
“This person went above and beyond the call of duty in his job description,” West Cal Chamber board member Jodi Barrilleaux said. “You will always see him smiling and willing to go above and beyond to make everyone he meets feel special.”
First National Bank of DeRidder is the Business of the Month.