We can remember a time, not too long ago, when Louisiana’s higher education leaders kept fairly mum about state budget cuts, apparently hoping not to anger those who wielded the budget ax.
But if officials at the state’s public colleges and universities hoped their reticence would spare them further austerity, the results of that get-along, go-along philosophy are by now fairly evident. “State funding for higher education has seen deeper cuts than any other state in the country,” LSU President F. King Alexander recently told the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “Since the recession started, we have seen our state funding cut by more than 50 percent.”
Thanks in large part to a more vocal role by higher ed managers during the most recent legislative session, lawmakers mostly spared the state’s colleges and universities from yet another round of cuts that would have been catastrophic.
That’s welcome news, but the budget situation at the Capitol remains fragile, and more cuts before next year remain a distinct possibility. What’s needed, obviously, is a comprehensive funding strategy for Louisiana’s higher education institutions that allows them to offer quality, affordable instruction without so much annual anxiety about how to pay the bills.
That must be job one for Louisiana’s next governor, and Alexander was right when he outlined what’s at stake during his Press Club speech.
“Because of the extended period of budget uncertainty LSU has experienced, we have lost many talented faculty, along with their research dollars and the potential commercialization revenues their discoveries represented,” Alexander told listeners. “Without additional and stable funding mechanisms for the state — or without raising tuition — we have gone about as far as we can with the support we have.”
Erratic state funding has hampered LSU’s ability to compete in a global marketplace. “Over the last 50 years, our state support has yo-yoed up and down in a pattern that no one could foresee and rarely even made it to the southern average,” Alexander said. “A predictable base would allow us to strategically plan and prioritize to meet our goals, instead of taking two steps forward, then two steps back every other year.”
Now is the time for voters to pin down this year’s gubernatorial and legislative candidates on their specific plans to support higher education.
Louisiana needs more college graduates in order to grow its economy. That should make higher education everyone’s cause — and a big factor in this month’s election.