LSU president supports faculty pay raises

LSU will have to find a way to raise faculty salaries if the university is ever going to become a nationally competitive research institution, newly installed LSU System President King Alexander said Tuesday.

More than 200 faculty have left the university since 2008 taking with them tens of millions of dollars in research grants. Meanwhile, class sizes have grown larger and LSU’s national rankings have suffered.

Without a pay raise, Alexander said LSU will be even more susceptible to losing faculty as the economy recovers and other states start looking to poach talent. He estimated it would cost at least $40 million to replace the 220 faculty members who have left in the past five years.

Pay increases have become an increasingly bigger issue at LSU, with faculty recently petitioning LSU’s board to find a way to offer more competitive salaries. Board members have said they would like to pay faculty more, but have yet to put forth a plan to do so.

Alexander’s speech Tuesday at LSU’s Executive Education’s Breakfast to Business touched on a number of different topics, including the need to expand access to college and the dangers of rising student debt.

Nationwide, student loan debt recently passed the $1 trillion mark, surpassing total credit card debt for the first time.

Alexander said the country has to move beyond the myth that more expensive schools automatically provide better educational experiences.

“Many institutions, when they need resources, raise tuition because they don’t want to be perceived as cheap,” he said. “Some institutions leave kids with between $70,000 and $100,000 worth of debt without a concern.”

With the U.S. no longer leading the world in higher education attainment, Alexander said LSU and other schools should be making efforts to improve access for veterans, people who have never been to college and the 54 percent of people nationally who have taken some college-level courses but did not graduate.

Alexander also spent a good portion of his time talking about the decline in state funding for higher education. Nationwide, states have cut funding to public higher education by more than 50 percent since 2008.

Louisiana’s higher education institutions have seen their state funding cut by nearly $700 million in the past five years as Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature negotiated to balance state budgets.

Schools made up some of the difference over the same time period by charging students roughly $350 million more in tuition.

“States are in the process of getting out of the higher education business,” Alexander said. Some states will cease funding colleges and universities completely over the next 10 to 15 years, he added.

But Alexander did have some good news for the assembled crowd of community and business leaders.

The mid-career earnings for LSU degree holders — graduates between 42 and 45 years old — ranks 33rd out of 167 public research universities nationwide, beating out the University of Alabama, the University of North Carolina and several other highly regarded institutions, he said.

“I really don’t know of a better measure,” he said.

Although Louisiana ranks next to the bottom nationally in the number of adults who finish college, the modest tuition and relatively low cost of living coupled with the higher mid-career earnings makes an LSU degree one of the best values in the country, Alexander said.

One of the biggest challenges facing higher education leaders today, he said, is convincing people of the “societal benefits” that occur when more people get a college education.

Greater earning potential, lower unemployment, reduced crime rates, more manageable health care costs and increased consumer spending are all things people can expect with a better educated population, he said.

“You get a 12 percent return on every dollar invested in somebody else’s child ... It’s not just an individual benefit,” Alexander said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We have to raise the expectations of educational attainment at every school in the state.”