Even as Louisiana legislators work to stave off potentially catastrophic cuts to state higher education funding in the coming year, a new national report is highlighting the hard hits that colleges and universities here have already taken since 2008.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released Wednesday a national analysis that found higher education funding in Louisiana has been slashed 42 percent since 2008 — about $4,941 per student and more than any other state in the country. The Washington, D.C.-based research group analyzes the impact of federal and state government budget policies from a progressive viewpoint.
“Our findings indicate for the state of Louisiana, the cuts have been severe — increasing costs to students and jeopardizing access and affordability,” said Michael Mitchell, a co-author of the report. “Dollar for dollar, no state has cut higher education more deeply than the state of Louisiana.”
The drastic drop in state funding for higher education shouldn’t come as a surprise to those paying attention to the ongoing budget negotiations at the State Capitol.
In a parade of hearings this session, college and university leaders have warned that they’ve already been cut to the bone and any additional cuts would have significant impacts on campus offerings.
“I think we have done a great job over the past five years,” Higher Education Commissioner Joe Rallo said during one hearing.
“We just can’t do it” he said of the threat of further cuts.
At the start of the session, leaders were bracing for an additional 82 percent hit to what’s left of the state’s funding for higher education. Leaders have stopped short of declaring victory, but the prospect of such deep cuts — by far the most drastic in the nation — has waned in recent days.
Still, even a “win” on funding this year would leave Louisiana’s colleges and universities far behind most states.
Last year, Louisiana state funding for higher education showed a slight uptick — about $16 per student, or 0.02 percent. That nearly level funding was touted as a win and has emerged as the goal for the current legislative session. Several steps still remain in the budget approval process, and veto threats from Gov. Bobby Jindal loom.
Jan Moller, executive director of the Louisiana Budget Project and a participant in the CBPP report’s release, said the level-funding goal pales in comparison to the strides other states are making to restore funding to pre-recession levels.
“The goal should be to start reinvesting in higher education so we can put more students on track to higher education,” he said. “Our economy has been growing since 2010, and yet year after year, we’ve been cutting funds for higher education.”
Louisiana was one of 37 states that saw an increase in higher education funding last year, though it was the lowest.
Nationally, per-student funding is up an average of $268 per student, or about 4 percent. Near the high end of the spectrum and opposite of Louisiana, Connecticut increased its per-student funding by $1,090 compared with the previous budget year, or about 9.3 percent.
Mitchell, the researcher, said the cuts here have a direct impact on tuition hikes, even as price hikes have done little to offset the full magnitude of the state funding cuts.
On average and inflation-adjusted, it costs 67.2 percent, or $2,939, more to attend a public four-year university in Louisiana than it did in 2008, the report found, and the costs continue to rise sharply.
“It’s one of the largest jumps in relative tuition increases that we see across the nation,” Mitchell said.
Compared with last year, Louisiana’s average tuition rate saw the highest spike in the country, as many states have stopped leaning on tuition as much.
The analysis found that Louisiana’s 8.9 percent average increase was followed by Hawaii’s at 5.9 percent.
Mitchell said the combination of increasing costs while decreasing offerings can deter enrollment and cause students to get deeper in debt.
“This mismatch can reduce the quality of education being given,” he said.