Louisiana’s higher education woes are prominently displayed in a soon-to-be aired episode of HBO’s documentary series “Vice.”
“Student Debt” by “Vice” airs on HBO on Friday at 11 p.m. and features interviews with Gov. John Bel Edwards and LSU President F. King Alexander in the 15-minute segment.
Louisiana public universities were spotlighted because the state has cut more public funding to its universities and colleges than any other state in recent years.
The documentary makes a connection between disinvestment and increasing student loan debt; however, it fails to note that Louisiana has among the lowest student debt rates in the country.
“We’ve been disinvesting in higher ed at a very, very rapid rate,” Alexander is seen saying in an interview while walking through LSU’s quad.
He said in 2008, the school budget was 70 percent state dollars and 30 percent student tuition, but he said today the model has drastically flipped and state funds account only for about 20 percent of their budget.
At the same time, the cost of tuition has increased for students.
“Tuition has gone up significantly,” he said. “We’re quietly privatizing public higher education.”
Last year, a year of tuition at LSU cost about $7,600 for a full-time student. Tuition has doubled at LSU in the past eight years.
The reporter also interviewed Edwards, pointing out that on the campaign trail, he advocated for restoring funds to higher education but is now proposing a budget that includes additional cuts.
Edwards stressed that the state is enduring catastrophic revenue shortages and is attempting to fill a $600 million budget gap.
“I have a constitutional obligation to deliver a balanced budget, and the cuts have to come from somewhere,” Edwards told the interviewer. “So the cuts are coming at the expense of higher education and also at the expense of students’ (tuition dollars) in order to keep those universities afloat.”
The latest round of cuts to higher education for the 2016-17 school year won’t be clear until Thursday when the Legislature finishes up with the special session.
The documentary focuses on student debt and includes interviews from struggling students who have taken out loans to cover the soaring cost of higher education.
Louisiana enjoys low student debt burden, in part, because the state still has among the lowest tuitions in the country for public universities and also because of the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, which has traditionally offered free tuition to instate students who earn midlevel academic benchmarks.
The second part of the documentary is a feature on fecal transplants, a medical procedure that treats digestive issues by inserting other people’s stool into their digestive systems.
Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen.