September 24, 2012
For Louisiana’s largest college system, the years of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administrations have been a disaster.
The University of Louisiana’s nine campuses — searching now for a new president to replace the retiring Randy Moffett — have seen cuts of $207 million in their budgets since 2008. It is not that the campuses have not been economizing: The system has cut 1,850 positions, including the 308 last year, according to system finance official Edwin Litolff.
The cuts in state support have forced tuition increases of $115 million. The cost to students, on average, has risen from $3,800 to $5,500 a year for the more than 93,000 students served.
The combination of reduced state support and higher tuition has resulted in a turnabout, that the majority of the operations of the colleges are supported by tuition and fees. This is a considerable break from the past in Louisiana.
While this budget presentation to the UL Board of Supervisors underlined the impact of the loss of state support to the board’s institutions, the losses are a part of the larger cuts to colleges under Jindal.
But the cuts and tuition increases reported to the board on average are different for each campus.
The UL system is one of the nine “regional” universities, although that is something of a misnomer: Institutions with significant research activity, such as the Universty of Louisiana at Lafayette and Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, are in the system with smaller campuses that are usually much more heavily focused on undergraduate education.
The budget cuts in the latter are significant challenges, given that a smaller campus — say, a McNeese State in Lake Charles — has to keep a range of courses available to maintain its status as a university. Rising admission standards may cause a reduction in enrollment at the same time as the state reduces its “free” dollars to a campus.
At the same time, these campuses in the middle, between the flagship public institution, LSU and the growing community colleges across the state, have to provide the sense of excitement and academic vigor that will keep enrollment up. Because, when it declines, a large campus has a budgetary cold, while a small campus gets pneumonia.
The Board of Regents, prodded by Jindal and others, has pushed for a funding formula that emphasizes support for colleges based on achievement of specific goals, such as graduation rates, rather than enrollment alone. That’s a positive development, but changing that formula is a long-term proposition. The Jindal cuts, and subsequent tuition increases, have precipitated a crisis for the “middle” campuses in the state system.
At the end of the day a campus has to have students. The vicious cycle — funding cuts that raise tuition, and then enrollment challenges that threaten the budget — are consequential today for many Louisiana campuses.
Again, it’s a bit of a misnomer, but Louisiana’s “regional” institutions are important in research but most critical in the four-year degrees, or professional programs such as that in pharmacy at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, which take more than four years.
Louisiana needs those credentialed graduates to fuel a more-advanced economy in the coming decades.
Cutbacks in state aid at UL institutions don’t serve the students seeking an education, or the state’s future economic prospects.