Inside Report: Sequester to hit La. higher education

By Koran Addo

Capitol news bureau

When the U.S. Congress failed to reach a deal last month to avert the so-called sequester, much of the talk was how nearly $200 billion in spending cuts spread out over several years was going to affect federal health and defense programs.

Less talked about was the impact it was going to have on states or state entities such as postsecondary education.

The sequester was originally passed as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act more commonly known as the debt ceiling compromise.

The automatic cuts to programs were supposed to be so onerous that they would compel some members of Congress known as the “super committee” to reach a deal to cut $1.5 trillion from the federal budget spanning 10 years.

The super committee’s inability to reach that deal, and later Congress’ failure to do something to avoid the cuts, means the cuts are here: $85.4 billion this year alone.

Here in Louisiana, some would say the state already is reeling after repeated state budget cuts to health care and higher education.

The state’s higher education policy board, the Board of Regents, recently reported the sequestration cuts will result in broad disruptions ranging from a 2 percent cut in Medicare payments to university hospitals to a $2.6 million, or 9 percent, cut to adult education and career-technical education programs provided by Louisiana’s two-year schools.

So far, colleges have predicted that people will lose their jobs and programs will be cut. It may not get that bad, but most agree that some of the state’s most vulnerable people — low income college students will feel pain.

One area especially hard hit is federal TRIO outreach and student service programs designed to provide services for low-income individuals, people from disadvantaged backgrounds and first-generation college students.

Some of the TRIO programs include the Ronald E. McNair Research Scholars Program at LSU which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year after having helped 350 first-generation college students pursue doctoral degrees.

In its report to the regents, LSU estimated 280 low-income, first generation students overall will be affected by the sequester.

“As this population is one of the most at-risk populations for college completion, the loss of these services would be expected to also negatively impact retention and graduation objectives,” the report says.

TRIO programs at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, are likely going to take a 8 percent cut limiting both the number of students who can participate and the number of programs the school can offer.

The University of New Orleans is expected to absorb more than $114,000 in TRIO and other program funding losses. Spokesman Adam Norris said the sequestration could also result in the loss of some federal financial aid to two dozen students.

Southern University Chancellor James Llorens said this week the sequester will affect the popular Upward Bound program, which helps high school students from low-income families and families in which neither parent holds a bachelor’s degree enroll in and graduate from postsecondary institutions.

Southern’s report to the regents estimates faculty and staff job losses and corresponding cuts to programs in “high wage, high demand clusters of allied health and nursing,” elimination of supportive services to students and reduction of the number of middle and high school students receiving academic remediation through Southern’s outreach programs.

“This is going to hurt our less-affluent and those relying on some type of assistance the most,” Llorens said. “Especially at Southern where a large percentage of our population is on financial aid.”

Koran Addo covers higher education for The Advocate. His email address is kaddo@theadvocate. com