Despite a decade of major cuts to colleges and universities, the president of the University of Louisiana System said Tuesday he is bullish about the future of higher education in Louisiana.

Jim Henderson, who was picked for the job one year ago on Friday, noted that state aid for colleges held steady in 2017 for the first time in years amid state budget problems.

"Because of that, it gave us some stability so that we could plan for the first time," Henderson said.

Most schools, he noted, also offered the first raise of any kind for faculty in eight years.

"I can't tell you what a morale boost that is for faculty," Henderson said.

The UL System has nine schools, including the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond and the University of New Orleans.

In a wide-ranging interview with the editorial board of the Advocate, Henderson disputed comments that Louisiana should trim its number of colleges and universities.

Henderson also defended the cost of state spending for athletics at the nine schools.

The UL System leader appeared at the newspaper to tout a six-point framework for progress developed by presidents of the nine schools.

One of the aims, he said, is for the system to produce 150,000 graduates by 2025, a 20 percent increase over current trends.

Doing so, Henderson said, would mean higher salaries, a cut in incarcerations and lower health care costs in a state ranked 49th in the U. S. in education attainment.

"Those units are students," he said. "They are our future."

Boosting the ranks of college graduates, he said, means targeting some of the 1.5 million residents who lack a college diploma.

The UL System has about 91,500 students this fall, up from 89,494 in the fall of 2013.

In another area, Henderson disputed calls for Louisiana to reduce college and university ranks.

"I think that is a mistake," he said. "When you look at the institutions each has areas of excellence, each has areas of focus."

UNO has been plagued by enrollment problems since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.

Henderson said this year the school stemmed the drop in enrollment, and is seeing an increase in first-year students.


Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.