The state of Louisiana is contemplating more cuts to its public higher education system, and things could get ugly. This isn’t a queen sacrifice, but something larger.
Thanks to recent budget decisions and the collapse of oil prices, the state economy is in recession and its government’s finances are being squeezed. Now there is talk of keeping expenditures down by, among other things, slashing support to colleges and universities.
University presidents and financial aid directors met in committee to plead their cases to lawmakers.
Some said the schools will not last if any more cuts are made…
The threat of new cuts combined with the reality of recent cuts has already hurt Louisiana’s public higher ed and students:
Almost every university system president is struggling with student retention and course cancellations.
“I know what it’s like to look a student in the face and tell him he’s not going to be able to graduate this time because we can’t afford the class he needs. We used to teach it, but we don’t now,” said Dr. Daniel D. Reneau Jr., Interim President of the University of Louisiana System.
As the governor put it in a recent, chilling speech:
Even with additional revenue, higher education this year will need to cut $42 million. This will be combined with a $28 million cut in TOPS scholarship funds
that the universities will have to absorb, resulting in the largest mid-year cut in Louisiana history.
Note the “additional revenue” bit, which Bel Edwards is obviously calling for. If that extra money doesn’t come in? “[H]igher education will face catastrophic cuts over the next 4 months.”
[W]ithout legislators approving new revenue this special session, some campuses will be forced to declare financial bankruptcy, which would include massive layoffs and the cancellation of classes.
The governor goes further, reaching for the nuclear option:
student athletes across the state at those schools will be ineligible to play next semester. That means you can say farewell to college football next fall.
Payments from TOPS, the state’s major financial aid program, have paused, and the governor isn’t sure they can resume next year. One campus is openly discussing closing for a few weeks, even if more money flows in.
Don’t forget the recent background for Louisiana higher education is pretty grim:
According to statistics from the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities, Louisiana leads the nation in cuts to higher ed, having cut funding by 41 percent since 2008. Louisiana’s higher education tuition increases are the fourth-highest in the nation, having risen 67.2 percent since 2008, the report states.
Here’s a story about LSU Baton Rouge’s horrendous maintenance problem. And yes, that’s the same LSU which played a key role in this month’s epochal discovery of gravitational waves. Maintenance problems are system-wide. How can these be addressed? Can Louisiana figure out how to at least keep its public universities on colleges on life support?