When Gov. Bobby Jindal took office eight years ago, state taxpayers provided 60 percent of the funding for Louisianaâs public universities. Now, taxpayers put up barely a quarter of the tab, leaving students and their families to cover most of the gap in the form of rising tuition and fees.
Barely 350,000 people live in northeast Louisiana. But drive the lonesome 30-mile stretch of highway from Monroe to Grambling and you will pass three public universities, all offering degrees in everything from kinesiology to music to world languages.
The Louisiana state flag famously depicts a pelican presiding over her nest, having torn open her chest to nourish her young. But thatâs not the way the pelicans over at the state Capitol have been behaving lately.
Naima Bastian remembers the day, nearly 30 years ago, when the Texas-born oilman strode into her middle school in New Orleans East and made a startling promise to a classroom full of eighth-graders.
Although no university has stayed out of the arms race in fees, some have been more aggressive than others. Since 2005, fees have ballooned by more than 340 percent at Southeastern Louisiana University, by 330 percent at Louisiana Tech and by 280 percent at McNeese State University.
Like two-thirds of Louisiana's university students, UNO's Franklin Fehrman gets no help from the TOPS program. Though he did qualify for aid from the federal Pell Grant program and a little bit of aid from UNO, itâs not nearly enough to cover his costs in an age of skyrocketing tuition and fees.
Across the country, undergraduate enrollment at for-profit colleges, also known as proprietary schools, has skyrocketed â rising from 400,000 students in 2000 to 1.7 million in 2010. In Louisiana alone, there are about 145 such schools, with a total enrollment of nearly 20,000 students â about one-fifth as many students as attending community colleges.
Compared with its fellow Louisiana schools, LSU has little to complain about. Enrollment is up; average ACT scores are up; spending is up. Among the stateâs 14 four-year public universities, LSU is the only one that has seen its overall revenue go up appreciably since 2008, thanks to dramatic increases in tuition and fees.
Dwindling state funding, dramatic enrollment drops and a yearslong, multimillion-dollar structural deficit led then-UNO President Peter Fos to put seven programs on the immediate chopping block and target others for restructuring.
Years of cuts have left UL-Lafayette with roughly half the state support it had just seven years ago, forcing administrators to focus tightly on the university's core academic mission while off-loading responsibility for student housing, parking, the bookstore, athletics and other auxiliary services.
Louisiana's budget cuts have landed hardest the past eight years on the shoulders of students who would have been struggling to pay for college anyway. And the suffering is most acute at Southern and the stateâs other historically black schools.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration officials complained that too few students were enrolled in two-year schools and that arguably too many were at universities. "We're producing a workforce that we cannot employ in Louisiana," Curt Eysink, who served as director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission under Jindal, declared in 2009.
The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students -- named for late oilman Patrick Taylor, whose privately funded promise to help high-performing poor students attend college inspired the sprawling, state-funded higher education scholarship program â has provided more than $2 billion to educate many thousands of Louisiana students.
At most of Louisiana's universities, athletic subsidies amount to between 5 percent and 9 percent of the overall budget. They all rely on similar logic, figuring that high-profile sports programs boost applications and drive alumni giving. They are a loss leader, in a sense.
In his successful run for governor, John Bel Edwards promised to reverse at least some of the damage done to higher education in Louisiana over the past eight years. Bobby Jindal cut direct state aid to universities by 53 percent, and the schools dramatically increased tuition and fees to fill most of the gap.
This isn't the higher education system Louisiana needs to compete in the 21st century. It isn't really a system at all. What we have is a product of the politics of the 20th century, largely shaped by segregation.