Three of Louisiana’s college and university systems are just hoping the state Legislature won’t cut higher education funding next year. Meanwhile, the Southern University System is facing significant funding issues next year, as officials suspect the Baton Rouge campus will fail to meet state benchmarks necessary to raise tuition for a second year.
Higher education leaders gave general overviews of their budget outlooks to the state Board of Regents on Wednesday.
For the LSU System, University of Louisiana System and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, the Legislature’s decision not to cut funding for higher ed this year, after years of repeated cuts, and to allow universities to keep the tuition dollars they bring in with tuition increases through the 2010 GRAD Act has meant some “breathing room.”
Regents chairman Clinton “Bubba” Rasberry said it’s too early to know what state lawmakers have in store for next year’s budget.
“It’s a stability we’ve just not had the past five years,” he said. “We’re going to need to be able to talk to that come spring.”
The Southern system continues to face a host of financial issues, including an 8 percent budget reduction this year. “It really is going to challenge us this year,” President Ronald Mason Jr. said.
Southern University doesn’t appear to be on track to meet the GRAD Act benchmarks for next year, either — perhaps not even the following year, according to the board staff.
“The biggest challenge is the GRAD Act,” interim Southern Chancellor Flandus McClinton said. “The targets are extremely high.”
Members of the board didn’t appear interested in attempting to lower the GRAD Act requirements to give Southern University a better shot at meeting them.
“Unless the GRAD Act was intended to literally close schools down, then maybe it’s time to start rethinking some of this,” Mason said.
The other system leaders gave a bit rosier pictures of their financial outlooks, though there are still issues.
LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander said LSU’s main campus significantly lags behind the national average for college expenditure per student.
“That’s not a good selling point,” he said. “Can you imagine what we’d be doing if we were funded at the national average?”
Board members asked LSU’s staff to draft a theoretical budget — a demonstrative prop to show state leaders.
“I would like to see what budget do you need to have in 2016 and 2017 to meet the state’s workforce demands,” board finance committee chairman Roy Martin said. “Everything has got to grow at LSU.”
He said he wanted something to take to the legislative appropriations committees. Rasberry said he would like to show it to next year’s gubernatorial candidates.
University of Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley said among her major concerns in the UL system are Grambling University and the University of New Orleans, where enrollment continues to lag nearly a decade after Hurricane Katrina.
She also worries about faculty, many of whom haven’t had raises in years.
“We continue to lose good faculty,” she said.
On the community and technical college side, LCTCS President Monty Sullivan said he would like to get to the point where the system can fund with institutions’ needs in mind, rather than factors that only reflect demand.
“We have been one of the fastest-growing (community college systems) in the country over the past seven or eight years,” he said.