If it’s good news that the credit ratings of several Louisiana colleges are off the negative watch list, the decision by Standard & Poor’s does not reflect a healthy environment for higher education during the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Further, this bit of good news has less to do with Jindal than with the legislators who balked at the governor’s initial budget proposals, envisioning even more cuts to higher education than he has hitherto made.
The immediate effect of the S&P decision is that institutions aren’t facing the short-term possibility of a ratings downgrade. A downgrade means that costs of issuing bonds and thus borrowing money for university projects would go up.
S&P’s decision affects Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the University of New Orleans Research Foundation, LSU’s Bogalusa Community Medical Center Project and the Delgado Community College Foundation in New Orleans.
The credit agency had put the institutions on a negative watch in April.
That is when Jindal’s budget proposal threatened hefty slashing because of state money problems.
But lawmakers scaled back tax breaks and raised taxes to avoid the cuts, giving colleges a largely standstill budget this year.
“Obviously, this is good news for us, great news for higher education,” said Jindal’s commissioner of administration, Kristy Nichols. “This has to be an indication that we made the right strides.”
Not at all.
If anything, the administration has been an active opponent of higher education funding for years, reducing state aid to campuses and encouraging almost a doubling of tuition costs for students and their families.
The savings to the state general fund were channeled into other areas, including big tax cuts for businesses and higher-income individuals.
The only time the Jindal administration freely gave cash to the universities was when it accepted the stimulus funds offered by President Barack Obama and Congress — and even then as much general fund cash as possible was siphoned off for other purposes.
The Legislature this year called a halt to the bleeding policy, but that’s about the best that can be said.
Louisiana’s colleges and universities are starved of the support they need to become competitive nationally. Lawmakers have been just as guilty as the governor for years.
The people of Louisiana should not be misled by the happy talk, to the verge of outright fantasy, pushed by Nichols and Jindal. Nor should voters believe legislators who slashed state aid over a number of years and who now run for re-election as backers of higher education.
State finances remain a mess that much more comprehensive reforms will be needed to set right.