LSU students had several questions about the state budget crisis and its potential impact on higher education during a campus forum Wednesday night.
Will their degrees become less valuable if Louisiana’s colleges and universities suffer the deep cuts that have been threatened? Are there campuses across the state at risk of closing? Will students sign up for classes next month, only to have them canceled in the fall?
The uncertainty and confusion over what will happen as state lawmakers craft a spending plan for the coming year amid the state’s $1.6 billion shortfall has hit LSU’s campus.
Under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget recommendation, higher ed faces about a $211 million funding gap. But that proposal relies on $376 million from the state scaling refundable tax credits — still a shaky proposal.
LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander, one of the panelists, said leaders are forced to face the worst-case scenario as they plan for the coming school year: a cut of up to $800 million, he said.
“How are we going to keep faculty from leaving campus?” he asked. “How are we going to keep students?”
The panel included University of Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley and Louisiana Budget Project director Jan Moller.
The news — what they know right now — wasn’t great.
“We’re working very hard not to have any cuts,” Woodley said, after noting she’s an optimist. “It’s hard to imagine how one plans for a cut of 70 or 80 percent.”
Alexander and Woodley’s answers: There could be canceled classes. Depending on whether programs have to be cut, degrees could lose value. If it’s worst-case, then all campuses could be at risk, but it’s unlikely there will be closures.
The bulk of the event was a more broad discussion about the budget situation, the state’s priorities and what advocates can do to challenge the potential cuts.
Geaux Vote LSU, a student group that was one of the event’s organizers, plans to lobby the Legislature this session to fight back against the cuts.
“This is only the beginning,” said Valencia Richardson, a junior at LSU who is one of the group’s co-organizers. “Our faces will be at the Capitol.”
LSU Alumni Association also has launched Tiger Advocates, a group that was plugged at several points during the budget forum and similarly plans to challenge the Legislature over cuts.
“Be annoying,” Alexander advised students at one point. “Sometimes, you don’t have to be so polite. This is a time when you need to fight.”