Higher education and health care in Louisiana have become the emergency funds for budget shortfalls over the course of the past few years, but the state passed two constitutional amendments to protect Medicaid funds on Nov. 4.
Prioritizing Medicaid funding is a no-brainer, but the bizarre constitutional amendment process used in our state to secure funding is a tremendous problem. Every time we pass an amendment that protects funding for a particular program or area, it places higher education funding in more peril. Now that a substantial portion of healthcare funding has been secured through the constitution, higher education is left standing as the last major source of “flexible” funding.
This is a process that feels a lot like Peter stealing from Paul to pay Mary, and Paul is in pretty bad shape financially at this point. Over the past six years, state funding for higher education has dropped 43 percent.
Let me give you a small but personal example of the harm this process has caused. LSU faculty and staff received an email last week letting them know that yet another spending freeze was being implemented. As a doctoral student at LSU, the email came at a particularly inopportune time.
Doctoral students in my program are required to participate in national and regional conferences each year to present our research, but all of our travel funding was abruptly halted this year by our department, and we have been fighting to get it back. The dean of my college was working with others to locate alternative sources of graduate student travel funds outside of our college’s budget, but a specific area that was frozen by Gov. Bobby Jindal last week was travel funding — so our battle, for the foreseeable future, is a completely losing one.
Now I, along with many others in higher education across the state, will have to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket with zero institutional support to attend these professional meetings and keep myself competitive for the job market.
Travel funding has historically been available for graduate students to apply for by demonstrating the significance of our work for the university as well as the significance of our financial need. The university has supplied this funding because it benefits from having its students present at prestigious conferences and proudly represent the LSU brand. The loss of travel funds for students will inevitably pull down LSU’s presence at these meetings and further diminish our reputation as a leading research university.
I worry deeply for my university, as there seems to be no end in sight for the abuse of higher education funding.
Isn’t it time to hold Peter accountable?
director of research and policy, Louisiana Progress