JCLB meeting 022219

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, presented the proposed a nearly $31 billion state budget to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.

The financial outlook for Louisiana's colleges and universities is the best it has been in the past decade, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said Tuesday.

"It went from being cut every year to not being cut in our first two years and being plussed up in our third year," Dardenne said.

"So it is clearly better than it has been for the past decade," he said. "It is not where we want it to be, but we are making progress."

Dardenne made his comments after addressing the Louisiana Board of Regents, which began budget hearings for spending proposals that will be reviewed by the 2020 Legislature.

State aid for colleges and universities rose by $47.3 million for the financial year that began July 1.

The increase for the LSU system was $10 million, to $362 million, or 3%. Aid for the Southern University system rose $2.7 million, to $45.9 million, or 6%.

The Board of Regents is set to submit its budget proposal for the financial year that begins July 1 by Nov. 1.

Dardenne noted that, under state law, the recently unveiled $500 million surplus from the financial year that ended June 30 cannot be used for college and university operations.

However, capital outlay is one of several areas that can benefit from the better-than-expected surplus, which would address a longtime complaint of college leaders.

"We are certainly going to be looking to help higher ed because of the huge backlog of capital outlay projects and deferred maintenance," he said.

The current higher education budget includes a $15 million boost for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students.

TOPS pays for most college tuition for students who qualify academically.

Higher education previously underwent 16 budget cuts over 10 years.

"That is the most important thing for higher ed, that we have stability because they are susceptible to budget cuts, particularly midyear budget cuts," Dardenne said. 

"And I don't believe we are going to have midyear budget cuts this year," he said. "I am hopeful we will have another surplus in the current budget year."

Dardenne was named to his post by Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is running for a second term in the Oct. 12 primary.

Later in the day, LSU President F. King Alexander told the regents that faculty pay remains a concern.

Alexander said peer faculty at Southeastern Conference schools are in line for pay raises that average 2.7% after increases of 3% last year.

He said LSU recruits faculty from Washington University in St. Louis, UCLA and other top-flight schools.

"Which means they can go anywhere they want to go," Alexander said. "They are incredibly mobile people."

Alexander said LSU has about 51,000 students at all its campuses, including about 31,700 in Baton Rouge.

He said 35,000 is a reasonable enrollment target for the flagship school.

About 22% percent of LSU students are from out of state. Alexander said high-achieving out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition and other costs than in-state students, are the hottest commodity in higher education.

LSU officials announced Tuesday that the 6,126-member freshmen class is the largest and most diverse ever, with a mean GPA near 3.5 and a mean ACT score of 25.6, up from 25.5 last year. The ACT measures college readiness, and the top score is 36.

Last year's freshmen class totaled 5,809 students.

Ray Belton, president of the Southern University system and chancellor of the Baton Rouge campus, said the school has a $27.4 million backlog of deferred maintenance.

Belton said he hears near daily complaints about road conditions on the Baton Rouge campus.

"I don't know how to tackle that monster," he said of repair costs.

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.