If Louisiana legislators are unable to fill a $750 million gap in the current state budget, LSU says it will have to hike student fees by $690, cancel some 275 courses and eliminate hundreds of faculty and staff positions.
“The budget cut scenarios and associated outcomes described are unacceptable for the state’s flagship university, which represents Louisiana’s national academic reputation,” the university wrote in a plan outlining the potential impact for Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration on Monday.
Such drastic cuts represent what would be a worst case scenario, similar to the situation going into last year’s legislative session. Lawmakers then were able to avoid such cuts.
The scenario also would similarly play out on campuses across the state in every system if the state Legislature doesn’t find additional revenue to avoid cuts. Without that cash infusion, higher education institutions together will face a $131 million hit — about half of that at LSU alone.
“Additional cuts would strain existing resources and cause catastrophic effects on quality,” LSU warns in its 19-page budget plan. “This would lead to the flagship being unable to live up to its mission of providing a comparable student experience as its national peers.”
Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said it’s unclear how each community college campus could absorb a collective $20 million hit.
“Despite the current status of the budget, we remain committed and focused on serving students and filling the workforce shortage of business and industry and know that our employees and stakeholders will do the same,” he said in a statement.
Edwards, a Democrat who took office Jan. 11, has repeatedly described the budget outlook as more dire than had initially been predicted. He is expected to call a special legislative session next month to try to shore up the current budget, as well as the estimated $1.9 billion shortfall in the budget that begins July 1.
Edwards’ administration has offered up a series of tax proposals for state lawmakers to consider, including a one cent increase in the state’s 4-cent sales tax. He has also suggested raising the cigarette tax by 22 cents per pack, from 86 cents to $1.08.
If LSU were to take a $65 million hit to its budget in the next six months, the university predicts that faculty and staff would immediately be furloughed on the Shreveport campus; two high-cost, high-demand academic programs would be closed in Eunice; student support services would be cut in Alexandria; the Ag Center would close five research stations; Pennington Biomedical Research Center would be forced to cut researchers.
On the main campus: services like financial aid processing, mentoring programs, safety and security and others would take a direct hit. Campus buildings could be closed to save on operating expenses and tuition and fees would go up.
But LSU also described the challenges the university faces with so much uncertainty — particularly in recruiting and retention efforts.
“The academic marketplace operates differently than most — right now, many of our potential students and faculty are making critical decisions about where they will go for their education or their career,” the university writes. “By the time solutions are reached by the Legislature, we will have lost many of them due to ongoing uncertainty.”
“If the state wants LSU to maintain its historic mission of providing a top-quality, nationally competitive education, the state must either provide greater support or greater authority to continue in this role,” the report adds.
Last year, as the state faced what was then seen as a potentially catastrophic shortfall, higher education officials repeatedly referred to the threat of a $1.2 billion cut as a “doomsday scenario.”
It eventually was avoided with an infusion of one-time resources and a scheme called the SAVE Act that directed funding to higher education. In effect, Edwards has said that the plan only delayed budget woes until former Gov. Bobby Jindal left office.
Check back with The Advocate for updates.