Higher education officials warned the Louisiana Legislature of the dire consequences to the state's higher education system if lawmakers refuse to raise money for its public colleges and universities.
Louisiana's higher education institutions are facing as much as an 82 percent cut -- around $600 million -- in state funding for the next school year, officials said during a Louisiana House Appropriations Committee meeting Wednesday (April 8). Gov. Bobby Jindal has proposed closing that gap significantly, but much of his budget proposal is already facing pushback from state lawmakers.
If the legislators don't find an alternative to the governor's proposal -- or agree to adopt Jindal's budget -- some higher education institutions and programs would have to shutter.
"Business will not be able to continue as it is right now," said Joseph Rallo, Louisiana's new higher education commissioner, who added that several programs "won't be viable" if the cuts on the table take effect.
Legislators didn't offer much in the way of specifics about how they would close the higher education funding gap, but indicated they couldn't stomach the proposed funding levels for Louisiana's colleges and universities.
"I don't think anyone sitting here thinks higher ed. can take an 82 percent cut," said Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, of his colleagues.
By some estimates, Louisiana has cut state support to higher education funding more than any other state in the country since 2007. Louisiana's support of its public colleges and universities has declined 34 percent over the last nine years. The national average was a decline of six percent, according to Louisiana House budget staff.
The following are some of the key points from the higher education budget hearing this morning:
Much of of Jindal's higher education budget relies on shaky funding.
About $372 million Jindal has allocated to higher education is contingent on the governor's tax credit rollbacks passing the Legislature, which -- at this point -- seems unlikely.
Legislators have no stomach for the inventory tax credit rollback in particular, which means that $376 million in revenue that Jindal's budget currently relies on will probably not be available. It also means that -- at this point -- much of the $372 million Jindal wants to send to higher education is unlikely to actually be available.
The Jindal budget for higher education also assumes $70 million in revenue from tuition increases, which the Louisiana Board of Regents is skeptical will materialize. The Board of Regents estimates it will only get $36 million from tuition increases next year, which creates another budget gap of $24 million
The bottom line is that Jindal's budget includes a lot of money that is by no means certain, so higher education should brace for more cuts than the governor has proposed.
Even if Jindal's budget comes through, higher education would still take a cut.
Even if all of the money Jindal relies on comes through, higher education will still be taking a $226 million hit in funding next year, according to Willis Brewer, the higher education analyst for the Louisiana House of Representatives.
The Jindal administration has proposed other measures for closing the remaining gap. For example, it proposed a new fee for college students that would raise more revenue for public universities. Students and their families would get reimbursed for that student fee through a new tax credit, which would be funded by a hike in the cigarette tax. Leftover lottery winnings and other state agency fees may also help ease budget tensions in higher education.
Louisiana is paying its faculty far less than southern, national averages.
The average faculty salary at a four-year Louisiana public college is $67,605 -- around $12,000 less than the southern average and $16,000 less than the national average, according to the Louisiana House budget staff. Louisiana community college faculty are also paid less than the Southern and national average.
This isn't necessarily anything new. Louisiana has paid its faculty less than the southern and national average for the last seven years at least. However, the gap between the average Louisiana faculty salary and others has grown.
Louisiana faculty have only seen around a $3,000 pay bump since 2008. The southern faculty average has been raised around $8,000 in the same time period. The national faculty average has increased $8,000 as well.
Higher Education Commissioner Joe Rallo said Louisiana's budget cuts are making it more difficult for the state's schools to recruit faculty.
Louisiana tuition is mostly less than the southern, national average.
Despite tuition increases, Louisiana's public colleges and universities continue to cost less than other southern and national peers. The one exception is two-year community colleges, where Louisiana's 2013-2014 tuition average was $230 higher than the southern average.
But at four-year institutions, Louisiana's tuition is slightly higher than $6,000. That figure is still about $500 cheaper than the southern average and $1,500 less than the national average, according to the Louisiana House budget office.
Nevertheless, some of Louisiana's higher education presidents said they are near the ceiling in terms of what their students can afford in tuition. University of Louisiana system president Sandra Woodley said most of her institutions couldn't raise tuition and fees much more without pricing students out of an education.
The state is spending more on TOPS because of tuition hikes, not because of enrollment increases.
The cost of the Louisiana TOPS scholarship program to the state is going up by $58.4 million this year, not because more students are using TOPS, but primarily because of tuition increases and a need to increase each individual award.
From 2009 to this year, the number of TOPS awards being given increased 13 percent to about 47,000 students. But the amount of money dedicated to the awards went up by 80 percent, largely because of public college tuition increases.
These figures prove that tuition increases won't necessarily help the state's fiscal crisis -- or allow Louisiana's government to give more money to higher education -- unless TOPS doesn't automatically cover all of tuition.
These figures are likely to be used to support state Sen. Jack Donahue's bill that would stop TOPS from automatically covering tuition increases at Louisiana colleges and universities.
To look at the House budget office's full presentation on Louisiana's higher education funding for next year, go here.
This article originally said Pennington Biomedical Center would lose all of its funding in Jindal's current budget. That is not the case.
. . . . . .
Julia O'Donoghue is a state politics reporter based in Baton Rouge. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jsodonoghue. Please consider following us on Facebook at NOLA.com and NOLA.com-Baton Rouge.