How low can we go? Louisiana higher education leaders decry deep budget cuts

By Robert Mann

Funding for Louisiana’s colleges and universities is lower than at any time since 1961, when John F. Kennedy was president.

According to the monthly research letter Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY (and reported in the Louisiana Budget Project’s Daily Dime), spending in 2013 represents Louisiana’s lowest investment in higher education since 1961 (the numbers compare spending based on $1,000 of personal income for each year).

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Another way of looking at the data is described in a story in Friday’s Baton Rouge Advocate. Reporter Koran Addo writes,

State general fund support for Louisiana’s public colleges and universities has been cut more than 80 percent since the 2007-2008 fiscal year. Louisiana’s youth services have been cut 40 percent, Veteran’s Affairs has been cut 69 percent and the Department of Environmental Quality has had a 96 percent cut.

In Wednesday’s Lake Charles American-Press, columnist Jim Beam offered these observations on the same cuts:

[Gov. Bobby] Jindal for the last five years has submitted budgets that count on revenues that aren’t always dependable. And when the money doesn’t show up, higher education and health care take the hits.

Neither of those areas is protected from budget reductions, so they pay a heavy price when money comes up short. They have faced mid-year budget reductions every year Jindal has been in office. There have even been some year-end cuts.

Take higher education, for example. The state spent $1.4 billion for colleges and universities in fiscal year 2007-08. The budget Jindal proposed for the fiscal year starting July 1 contains $284.5 million for higher education. That is an 80 percent reduction in state funding over those years.

The governor always justifies the cuts by saying colleges and universities have been able to raise tuition to make up the difference. However, that just isn’t the case. While I am writing this, there are higher education officials in the state Capitol who are speaking in favor of bills that would give them authority to seek even higher tuition.

So, how have the deep budget cuts affected Louisiana’s colleges and universities? In testimony Thursday before the Senate Finance Committee, several state higher education leaders laid out the consequences in stark terms.

State Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell described the cuts to LSU and Baton Rouge Community College. He said LSU has seen its state appropriations cuts by 53 percent ($125 million) since 2008. Jindal and the Legislature have slashed BRCC’s budget by 51 percent ($10.7 million) in the same years, he said. As the Advocate reported,

A major research institution like LSU can’t fulfill its mission with that type of year-after-year budget uncertainty, Purcell said. And BRCC can’t adequately fill the area’s workforce needs with that dramatic a decline in state funding, he added.

Louisiana pays its teachers the lowest rates among peer institutions in the South, all while cutting 9 percent of staff in recent years to save money and also grappling with the rising costs of unfunded mandates from the state, he said.

“We realize a highly subsidized higher education system will not be the case in Louisiana, but stable support is critical,” Purcell said. “Louisiana needs higher education to remain viable. This is your time to show your support when higher education is at its most vulnerable.”

LSU’s interim president, William Jenkins, had his turn at the microphone, painting a picture just as dire as Purcell’s, as reported by The Advocate.

Jenkins said LSU suffered the “steady attrition” of high-quality faculty members over the past several years as a result of the budget cuts.

“The strength of a university depends on faculty and support staff,” Jenkins said. “It’s hard to stay competitive when you start losing quality faculty.”

Jenkins said the student-to-faculty ratio at LSU has risen from 18-to-1 to 23-to-1 in recent years.

“I can’t look you in the eye today and tell you we are going to be able to hold our position,” Jenkins said. “It’s just not possible; it’s sad.”

By the way, the headline for this post was inspired by the editorial cartoon below. It’s by the great Fred Mulhearn and is featured in Friday’s Baton Rouge Advocate.


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9 Responses to How low can we go? Louisiana higher education leaders decry deep budget cuts

  1. Fredster says:

    I had this bookmarked because i sent it to a friend in OH. It involves two members of the faculty who are leaving.

    Donald McKinney, director of wind ensembles and conducting and associate professor in the school of music, said he was “disheartened” in LSU’s handling of the future. He said the morale has been low and hopes LSU would change to retain faculty. McKinney, who’s a newer faculty member, said he’s heading to another university at the end of the semester.

    When I checked Dr. McKinney’s info on the LSU website I saw he’s only been there since June 2011.

    Nathan Crick apparently felt the same way.

    Nathan Crick, an associate professor in communication studies, echoed similar sentiments. Crick said he was sold false goods and now “it’s time to return them.” The professor said he’s leaving LSU for Texas A&M.


  2. Stephen Winham says:

    In addition to his unquestionable credentials, a clear reason Dr. Jenkins was brought out of retirement to head the LSU system was his loyalty and willingness to tow the administration line. It is interesting he is now decrying the cuts to higher education after sitting quietly by as they took effect over the last several years – a good soldier.


    • Bob in BR says:

      You are quite right Stephen. Now that Jindal’s loaded Board of Supervisors has consolidated the position of president and chancellor while risking LSU’s accreditation and their unethical if not illegal appointment of a lower tier applicant with suspect credentials, Dr. Jenkins has suddenly grown a spine. Why didn’t he have anything to say while in a position to do so? He’d rather keep collecting a paycheck and to hell with LSU until the new yes man was in place. I always perceived Dr. Jenkins as a great administrator and ambassador for LSU until his swan song appearance where actual allegiances came to light. Dr. Jenkins, please don’t insult our intelligence with shallow outrage now and just take your voice and tarnished image and ride off into the sunset of the Jindal nightmare. The shame of it all.


      • tls0 says:

        …and he always looked the very model of the modern major chancellor…

        In answer to your title “How Low Can We Go,?” I suggest it all depends on the polls.
        Remember Valentine’s Day?
        “The only polls I care about are BCS polls,” Jindal said, “and I’m glad to see the Tigers ranked, again, high in the preseason polls.”
        Not that what Jindal thinks is all important anymore, nor what Jenkins said ever mattered much…but just imagine what would happen if our highest-paid public servant said, “we can’t recruit quality football players and we won’t beat Alabama until we spend more on higher ed.”
        How low can we go?
        Low enough that Coach Miles says he needs a university that the football team can be proud of.


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  5. TT says:

    It’s amazing what old men will do for $600,000 per year! They will literally sell their soul to the devil (Jindal in this case) and follow orders that they are given, NEVER straying from those orders and in the end ruin whatever reputation they might have had and to hell with what’s best for the university, its students and its employees.
    Of course the replacement is not going to be any better!


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