Higher Education Budget Cuts

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 - 7:32pm

Big changes could be on the way for some of Louisiana’s most prestigious universities. State education leaders took their concerns to the capitol today. Lauren Unger tells us why they say the looming budget cuts would be devastating for higher ed.

They came here to the State Capitol to talk about hundreds of millions of dollars in funding cuts. Officials from universities right here in Baton Rouge say those cuts could jeopardize the future of Louisiana and its workforce. It was a grim meeting for leaders in Louisiana higher education. They packed the halls of the House of Appropriations Committee protesting more than $200 million in state funding cuts. Dr. John Lombardi of LSU says, “We’re talking serious money here. We’re talking a serious reduction in people and we’re talking about a difficult time to maintain competition with our counterparts.”

LSU would get $40 million less from the state, which could lead to layoffs and larger classes. LSU student leader Martina Sheuermann says, “You are concerned about not being a flagship institution anymore, not being a flagship institution.” The other option is tuition increases. LSU student leader Stuart Watkins says, “Tuition is going to increase? How are LSU students going to pay for that when only 1 out of 5 students is on the Pelican Plan?”

Dr. Ralph Slaughter of Southern says, “A significant percentage of our reduction will be in the area of personnel.” The same story at Southern, a proposed 20% cut, sending students to the halls of the legislature. Southern student leader Stanley White, Jr. says, “Even before the cuts, a lot of teachers have already been laid off, a lot of programs are being cut, and they were coming up for accreditation soon.” Langston Williams agrees, “Not having classes that fit student’s schedules, not having teachers to teach classes that students need, not even having available classes that we need.”

But it will be a lengthy process; it’s just like any other bill. It has to go through both the house and the senate before higher education officials know exactly what type of cuts they could be working with. Committee members will listen to testimony on this issue again tomorrow. Right now they’re in a fact-finding mode. They won’t be able to begin amending the budget until the start of the session next week.