LSU System officials chastised the flagship LSU campus Friday for allowing a decline in new student applications.

LSU campus officials countered that the numbers are deceiving and LSU’s overall enrollment actually is expected to grow in September.

LSU System Chief of Staff Mike Gargano took aim at the applications of incoming freshman to LSU dipping nearly 20 percent from last year — about 3,400 fewer students applying for admission.

“This is a big deal,” said Gargano, who is also vice president for student and academic support services.

“In this business,” Gargano said, “if you are standing still, the competition is going to pass you by.”

LSU Executive Vice President and Provost Jack Hamilton said the numbers are “very misleading.”

Kurt Keppler, LSU vice chancellor for student life and enrollment services, said LSU’s overall enrollment is projected to grow by 389 students and exceed 29,000 on campus.

Last year’s freshman class was the second-largest ever. LSU expects its freshman enrollment to decline from 5,481 students last fall to 5,200 this year.

Keppler said a primary reason for the decrease in applications is LSU stopped doing business with Virginia-based Royall & Company, which LSU paid $150,000 last year to help reach out to more potential, out-of-state students.

LSU waived the application fees for those students and about 4,000 of them applied, Keppler said, but 369 of them actually attended.

Michael Martin, chancellor of the main LSU campus, said applications also likely decreased because budget cuts led to the elimination of LSU’s Bengal Legacy Scholarships for out-of-state students with alumni parents and cuts in other institutional scholarships.

There is “no question” though that LSU must up its recruiting efforts because of budget cuts and increasing admission standards, Martin said.

Gargano said the Baton Rouge campus must develop better recruiting strategies — especially nationally — and tap into its alumni base more. “If you don’t properly plan — it doesn’t matter the amount of national championships you win — your enrollment will not grow.”

LSU System President John Lombardi said effective student recruitment of quality and quantity is more important than ever because LSU is now more than 50 percent reliant on self-generated revenues since cuts of state government funds to colleges began more than two years ago.

LSU is closer “to being privatized” than ever, he said. “Everybody needs to improve,” Lombardi said.

LSU must report its budget recommendations to the LSU System by July 29, before the final budgets are approved in August by the LSU Board of Supervisors.

Martin said the plan is to “hopefully” protect the university’s academic core financially while forcing “ancillary” programs like the LSU Press and LSU museums to become more self-reliant and generate their own operating dollars.

LSU’s projected total operating budget of nearly $443 million is down by nearly $300,000 from last year, according to the LSU System. Student tuition hikes offset most of the budget cuts.

Herb Vincent, LSU associate vice chancellor for communications, said that amount does not account for the millions more in dollars LSU will have to spend on unfunded mandates like employee retirement and benefits cost hikes, hardship waivers for financially struggling students, other tuition exemptions and more.