Nearly half the University’s state funding hinges on tomorrow’s preliminary budget announcement from Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Roughly $110 million of the University’s budget comes from the state, but the higher education budget reduction proposed by Jindal could drop this number to $58 million, cutting almost half the University’s state funding, said LSU President F. King Alexander.
Pending Jindal’s official announcement tomorrow, higher education faces a $383 million reduction, according to LSU Budget Hub.
With the possibility of the proposed budget cut reducing the roughly 13.5 percent of the University’s revenue coming from the state to 6 percent, University administration must decide sooner rather than later whether to reduce the number of courses offered during the fall semester. Because financial aid is contingent on course selection, which opens in March, the decision cannot wait for the April legislative session, Alexander said.
“This kind of cut is of such magnitude that it will have a long-term and generational effect on the education we offer, on our graduates — what they do —on students that won’t come or go home, on faculty who don’t show up or faculty who leave with their federal research grants and research opportunities that they utilize with students, on our service to the state,” Alexander said.
Due to the drop in oil prices and Louisiana’s energy industry dependence, state revenue was hit with a $400 to $600 million loss, said Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles.
The state is faced with a $1.6 billion budget deficit.
When state leadership looks for discretionary funding to cut, higher education and health care represent approximately $2.5 billion left unprotected by the Louisiana state constitution, said Jason Droddy, University executive director of policy and external affairs.
If there was more commitment to building a strong university system in Louisiana, the state would not be so dependent on energy, and the budget would not be as negatively affected by the oil industry’s downturn, said Michael Martin, former University chancellor.
The Worst-Case Scenario
Beyond the main campus, the University belongs to the LSU System — a network of higher education institutions and research facilities under
If Jindal’s budget plan confirms the budget reduction is as large as projected, LSU Shreveport, LSU Alexandria, LSU Eunice, the LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, the LSU Health Sciences Center Shreveport, the Paul M. Hebert Law Center, the LSU AgCenter and its parish extensions, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center and University main campus will feel the effects.
Alexander said this could be the largest higher education budget reduction in 50 years.
“Our area regional campuses — [Alexandria, Eunice and Shreveport] — they have no idea how they’re going to get out of something that bad,” Alexander said. “Pennington has no idea how to get out of something this bad.”
Droddy said tomorrow’s announcement will be the worst-case scenario for higher education. Because of preliminary budget regulations, one-time money, like property sales, will not be included in Jindal’s announcement.
On April 8, a higher education budget presentation will be made to the House Appropriations Committee, describing how the funding presented in tomorrow’s preliminary budget will be used, Droddy said.
The legislative session will begin on April 13, when the state legislature will deliberate on one-time money, which may be able to cover some of the losses to higher education.
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Stuart Bell said this cut could delay students’ graduation because the University will not be able to offer as many course sections, and class sizes will increase, decreasing individual student attention.
“We have some programs that are close to 100 to one, 100 students to every one faculty member, and that’s just not sustainable,” Bell said. “That’s not the model that a flagship university needs to be operating at.”
University alumnus and political commentator James Carville said he saw everyone from his brothers and sisters to his most successful colleagues and current and former Tulane University students graduate from the University.
His whole life he wanted his daughter, now a junior in high school, to attend his alma mater, he said, but with concerns over the quality of the education she would receive, these days, he is not sure if the University is the right place for her.
“An LSU degree is, you know, because of the actions that we’ve taken, is just not going to be worth as much as it used to, and it’s something that we’ve got to consider,” Carville said. “There’s a price for all of this, and it’s the young people in this state that are going to pay it.”
The University is more indispensable to Louisiana than any other state university to its home state, and the size of this budget reduction will have consequences not only for students, but for the Louisiana economy, Carville said.
When he attended the University, he said the education he received and the faculty he was able to work with gave him “a real window in the world,” but he now worries the education will be under par with other flagship schools.
“I don’t think the governor, the legislature or the Board [of Supervisors] has any idea of how talented our students are and how much this University means to the state,” Carville said. “I really don’t. Some legislators do I’m sure. Some Board members do, but my observation is a whole lot of them don’t have the foggiest idea.”
Many legislators believe there is room to cut higher education because of inefficient spending, Alexander said.
Of the 50 flagship schools throughout the country, he said the University ranks 46th in spending per student.
“You take all our money and spend it on a student we rank fourth from the bottom already before any cuts,” Alexander said. “So this yapping about inefficiency, you don’t start at the bottom on there and start
saying, ‘Oh, all those institutions are inefficient.’ They cut us, I don’t even know where we’d fall below that.”
During the 2008-09 recession, higher education was hit with about a 30 percent reduction, but the budget plan for the upcoming year could result in a 42 to 45 percent reduction, Alexander said.
Martin said he faced repeated budget cuts during his four years as chancellor from 2008 to 2012, and the midyear cuts hit the University hardest. He was forced to eliminate academic programs, including multiple foreign language programs, and the school laid off a number of non-academic faculty and staff members.
The University lost valuable individuals who couldn’t be replaced or had to be replaced by more junior people where possible, Martin said. However, Student Life and Enrollment improved student retention, protecting the University from more dire financial effects.
Even though student tuition and fees rose, Martin said keeping students on campus to pay tuition and complete degrees kept the University afloat.
Bell said the University already took many of the immediate plans of action considered to combat a budget reduction. The more the state cuts higher education, the harder it is not to have a negative impact on students and the state economy.
Martin said the efforts of the student body and student leadership were vital to combating cuts. He took the Student Government president and vice president with him to speak with the governor and present a petition with signatures collected from University students, as well as other students
throughout the state.
Another important element was the formation of the Flagship Coalition, a group of powerful Louisiana higher education supporters — all University boosters — who put their reputation on the line to advocate for higher education, Martin said.
The Next Steps
Alexander said the University is in the first phase of reaching out to deans to find where there might be room to cut, but the steps moving forward are always changing because the budget is developing.
The University will try to protect instruction first, but the student services surrounding instruction, such as tutoring, advising and counseling, will be the first affected by the reduction, Alexander said.
“Understand though, that for four years in a row, we’ve already gone through this, so we can’t save the dollar we’ve already saved if you will,” Bell said. “We’ve saved a lot of dollars that wouldn’t have hard impacts, but even those had hard impacts.”
Alexander said students can get involved by allying with Student Government, with whom he will be working closely. He encouraged students, parents and alumni to join the Tiger Advocates — an advocacy group formed by the Alumni Association and SG to campaign against the budget reduction.
Carville said the major reason the University has continued to face financial abuse at the hands of state leadership is the University community’s
unwillingness to speak up.
“You know, in any abusive relationship, and it is an abusive relationship between state government and the University,” Carville said, “It not only takes the person doing the abusing, but it takes the consent of the person being abused. And this University is in an abusive relationship with the government of this state, and it’s been for a long time.”
Alexander said he is working with legislators to find solutions to lessen the blow.
Alexander’s proposed solutions are a pension reform and seeking more autonomies from the state, but it took the University three years to gain control of its risk management and procurement.
Though about 6 percent of the state recipients are in the University pension plans, students contribute 22 percent of the statewide funds, Alexander said.
“I think we in public higher education have got to stymie this slide and this devaluing of students and the next generation of students, and quit relying on them to pay for the baby boomers as they get older,” Alexander said.
William Taylor Potter contributed to this report.