Louisiana is, once again, poised for a catastrophic strike. Instead of a hurricane though, it’s another Category 5 budget shortfall.
Just like hurricane season, it is becoming an annual occurrence for Louisiana to face seemingly insurmountable budget challenges. Just like the hurricane forecasters, we hear predictions from our economic and legislative leaders that there will be a severe budget shortfall. But that is where the similarity ends.
The residents of Louisiana listen carefully to the storm predictions and take action to protect their families, homes and businesses in order to safeguard what is important and dear to them.
Such is not the case with the budget. Instead of designing a strategy that will provide each of our children with a quality education, we choose to sacrifice their future.
There is no doubt that higher education is in the eye of this budget storm. Unfortunately, we are No. 1 again.
Louisiana has cut the higher education budget more than any other state in the country. To make matters worse, while many of our neighboring states have reinvested in higher education as the U.S. economy has slowly recovered, Louisiana continues to cut even deeper.
A vibrant public education system is essential to our economic growth and prosperity. The concept of doing more with less is no longer a tenable position. As the higher education dollars vanished, our public universities suffered: larger classes, fewer teachers, an exodus of gifted researchers, elimination of student support services and deferred maintenance of critical infrastructure that is crumbling before our eyes.
In response to decreased state dollars, tuitions increased, which pushed the costs of a college degree beyond what many families could afford, thereby robbing their children of a bright future.
Many of us benefited from the sacrifices of previous generations who invested in our future. They knew that education was the key that opened the door for every child’s dream of being a doctor, a scientist, a lawyer, an engineer, a teacher. It is our turn now.
Dr. Steve Nelson
dean, LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine