Let’s Sum Up Louisiana’s Approach to Higher Education Spending with 5 Events

A report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) shines a spotlight on how far funding for higher education has fallen since the start of the recession. Particularly for states in the south, funding “is down by more than 35 percent since the start of the recession.”

Overall tuition at public four-year colleges is up almost 30 percent since 2007. Even worse for students who attend schools in the south– like Florida and Georgia–the report states that tuition skyrocketed 60 percent.

Considering the government has cut Pell Grants and wage growth has been stagnant, such a steep rise in tuition has likely priced many students out of attending college.

Louisiana is no exception to the Southern states whose policy has once included serious budget cuts for higher education. But, believe it or not, even Louisiana, one of the most severely cost-cutting states, has had a turnaround when it comes to higher education. Here are five steps in the journey to keep Louisiana’s colleges safe from loss of funds.

  1. Governor Bobby Jindal suggested cuts to higher education—as high as $600 million. Louisiana State University (LSU) went so far as to draw paperwork to file for academic bankruptcy just in case the state decided to go through with the decreases.
  2. Louisiana legislators approved a “spending plan that favors higher education.” The plan included $615 million in new revenue that would save the state’s colleges and universities, including LSU, from having to lay off employees and cut programs and services due to the budget shortfall.

According to NOLA.com, the original plan had the House Appropriations Committee raising close to $1 billion. Because that plan didn’t go through, the House still had to make cuts. Fortunately for higher education, those reductions were redirected elsewhere.

Healthcare funding will “fall $180 million short” and the new University Medical Center in New Orleans is missing close to $90 million due to the lack of state revenue.

On one hand, it’s great that the future of the state’s college students will not be compromised due to a budget shortfall, but Louisiana’s most vulnerable may be in peril because of bad money decisions by the state’s leaders.

  1. The state’s scholarship program called TOPS would see funding limitations as a result of the budget shortfall. This will require families in the state to assume more responsibility “for coverage more of their tuition bills moving forward.”
  2. Louisiana education leaders are asking for “twice as much money next year” after the state’s budget crisis this past year.

Currently state schools receive nearly $770 million in funding, but due to the shortfall and other needs, leaders are requesting $1.4 billion in funding for 2016-2017.

But the request is steeped in good news. While Louisiana may have budget issues, the additional money is needed to keep up with a growing workforce in the state.

“Higher education needs to add slots and expand programs at both two-year and four-year colleges to meet these needs, but doesn’t have resources to do so currently,” officials said.

According to NOLA.com, the state’s job market demands cannot be met if new money isn’t approved.

It will be tough sledding as education leaders had to fight just to get the current level of funding. In order to meet budget needs, many states–including Louisiana–will cut higher education funding to stay afloat.

NOLA.com reports that “[s]ince 2008, more than $700 million has been removed from Louisiana’s colleges and universities’ budgets — a larger cut than any other state higher education system in the country has had to endure.”

It’s why leaders are concerned that filling critical positions in the state’s workforce will be compromised if the new money isn’t approved.

A decision on when, or if, the request will be approved will not come until the state legislature meets for its next session in 2016.

  1. Bobby Jindal wanted more education cuts in Louisiana. Governor Bobby Jindal reportedly wanted to cut over $600 million from higher education, but was rebuffed by leaders in the state legislature.

In speaking with the press in late 2015, Jindal notes that he was upset that lawmakers didn’t cut from the state’s higher education fund.

To close the state’s budget shortfall, lawmakers used money from the rainy day fund. Despite Jindal’s opposition, the fact that higher education funds weren’t slashed even further is good for just about everyone else.

Nola.com notes that the move saved many schools from being reorganized.

“The Louisiana Legislature voted overwhelmingly last week to draw down around $28 million from the rainy day fund to cope with a midyear budget shortfall. The move allowed public colleges and universities to avoid reductions in the current budget cycle — though the outgoing governor said he would have preferred more reductions.”

Governor-Elect John Bel Edwards says that he wants to increase the budget for higher education, which will undoubtedly appease education leaders in the state.

Louisiana changed their course, but many other states are not so lucky. Students are being priced out of attending post-secondary institutions, the quality of higher education has been compromised, and we’re still grappling with how to properly keep many colleges afloat.

That, unfortunately, is the price we pay for bad policy.

Thoughts on the trend of higher education cuts? Did Louisiana make the right decision in bucking this trend? Please share your thoughts.


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