The Board of Regents is thinking of ways to bring in new funds to make up for the past five years of budget cuts sustained by the Louisiana University System.
The Board of Regents met for the first time this year on Thursday morning. Newly appointed members Richard Lipsey, Joel Dupre, and Edward Markle were sworn in and got straight to business.
Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell addressed the Board with a presentation on the state of state higher education.
Chairman W. Clinton Rasberry requested the presentation.
“We are in an intensifying crisis,” Rasberry said, “not created by an individual or a particular legislature. We are in this crisis because of many many different reasons, one is the constitution of the state of Louisiana.”
Purcell began his presentation by explaining that the university system has seen a decrease in state support by almost 30 percent over the past five years.
“In total in 2008, we had $1.4 billion directed towards higher education,” Purcell said. “In 2012 that number is $983 million.”
The blow of the funding decrease differs from campus to campus.
“Baton Rouge is our fastest growing city. We have a great need for educated workers,” Purcell said. Over the past five years, the budget for Baton Rouge Community College has decreased from $20 million to $9 million. “That’s a 52 percent cut,” Purcell noted. “The question is, are we really doing the things we need to be doing to make sure we have the workforce needed.”
“It’s very difficult to move forward with those kinds of cuts,” Purcell said. LSU’s Baton Rouge campus is running with 43 percent of the state funding it had in 2008. To keep afloat, the administration has cut deferred maintenance budgets, professors have gone without pay raises, and many non-essential programs have been cut. “When we talk about building a flagship, a world-class flagship,” Purcell said, “I’m sure that’s the right direction to go.”
Some members of the board don’t think that the consequences of budget have been dramatic enough to increase funding.
“At the same time that we’ve had decreases in state funding, we’ve had increases in enrollment and, apparently, increases in completions,” said Regent Joseph C. Wiley. “That causes quite a dilemma when you go out to the folks that provide the sources of funding when you go out and try to create the argument for additional funds. We haven’t had a closure for lack of funding.” College administrators have tried to avoid impacting the student body with cuts. “The dilemma that we have is that the folks outside our huddle don’t see a significant negative impact,” said Wiley.
Purcell pointed out the majority of most student bodies come from the area where the college or university is located. Regent Robert J Burns took that into consideration when he suggested local municipalities contribute to the colleges in their neighborhood.
“Your neighbor is your workforce,” Purcell said.
Other Regents suggested raising tuition, noting that students in Louisiana pay some of the lowest tuition rates in the South. Still another regent suggested privatizing universities in the same way the state has privatized hospitals to save money.
No matter the solution, something needs to be done, Purcell said.
“We have in Louisiana at this point is little to no human capital accumulation, slow growth, demand for low-skilled labor, and disincentives for advancement in higher education,” Purcell said. These factors create a cycle, and the only way to break it, Purcell said, is to reinvest in higher education.