We’re all familiar with that age-old saying, “Time is money.” But for LSU — and Louisiana — time doesn’t just mean money. It means talent. The longer we wait to address our state’s billion-dollar budget problem and provide Louisiana’s universities with the stability necessary to attract top-notch students from across the state and the nation, the more likely it is that we lose them to another state. And once they’re gone, it is unlikely that we will get them back.

To put it bluntly, this is a serious human capital issue for Louisiana, as we watch the next generation of talented students become the future economic assets of other states.

Timelines are critical. The nationally accepted final date for students to make their college decisions is May 1, and the average American college-bound high school senior applies to anywhere from six to eight schools. While other universities are fine-tuning generous scholarship offerings meant to lure Louisiana students away from home and showcase their many strengths, Louisiana’s colleges and universities are testifying about more potential budget cuts and TOPS reductions that leave students and parents nervous about their future investments.

Lanny Keller: Louisiana lawmakers caught in fiscal torrent, not even trying to swim

Selecting a university is now one of the most important decisions that individuals and their families will make in their lifetimes. In some cases, it can mean the difference of as much $1 million over the course of their careers. Understandably, parents want to send their children to a college that will not only provide an education but will pave the way toward future success. We can tell students what an exceptional education we offer, and we can show them the achievements and accolades our previous students have had, but when their parents read headlines that proclaim Louisiana is preparing for another set of budget reductions, it’s hard to combat the impression that leaves. LSU scientists won a Nobel Prize in physics last year, but that is not what potential students will remember. They will remember doom-and-gloom headlines and dark clouds of looming uncertainty.

That’s why we are asking our legislators, please, to firm up the bottom line for higher education, no matter what that looks like, as quickly as they can. Gather in a special session and use that time wisely. Do it before our Louisiana students are scared out-of-state or, even worse, change their minds about going to college at all. Making the right choices now will keep our Louisiana students from becoming boxed in by what they feel are limited options due to the perceived fragility of TOPS or the potential for historic budget cuts that might never come to fruition. Do it before we lose our best talent because of wasted time.

F. King Alexander is president of LSU.