JBE at Southern University

Gov. John Bel Edwards spoke to students at Southern University on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, to highlight higher education differences with GOP gubernatorial rival Eddie Rispone. The runoff election is Nov. 16.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday GOP gubernatorial rival Eddie Rispone would slash college and university budgets and merge colleges if he is elected governor.

"I will tell you when somebody like Eddie Rispone talks about restructuring higher education and doesn't get more specific, then I believe he wants to go back and do what we are just recovering from," Edwards told a gathering of students at Southern University.

Rispone, a Baton Rouge businessman, has called for a constitutional convention to make unspecified changes in education and other areas.

Edwards and Rispone face off in the Nov. 16 runoff.

The Republican's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rispone is set to be on stage Wednesday night when President Donald Trump makes an appearance in Monroe to boost Rispone's chances in the race for governor.

Edwards, a Democrat running for his second term, said during a 45-minute appearance that Rispone wants to return to the policies of former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who served two terms.

"It's going to be more cuts, it's going to be consolidation," he said of what colleges would face under the Republican.

"Under Bobby Jindal we led the nation in general fund cuts to higher education for eight years," the governor told reporters.

"We raised tuition more than any other state over those same years."

"It was a disaster," Edwards said. "We can't go back there and we shouldn't take a chance going back there."

Earlier this year colleges and universities won their first budget hike in the past decade after years of state financial problems.

The governor noted that, in 2011, Jindal made an unsuccessful effort to merge Southern University in New Orleans with the University of New Orleans.

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.