State's higher education funding dwindling

By By Jim Beam / American Press

BATON ROUGE — Louisiana’s higher education leaders painted a bleak picture of their systems at a hearing held Thursday by

the Senate Finance Committee.

William Jenkins, interim president of the LSU System, said higher education in the state is at the point of diminishing returns.

“I apologize for my passion, but this state has so much potential,” Jenkins said.

Jim Purcell, state commissioner of higher education, provided the committee with budget numbers showing the financial decline

at colleges and universities over the last five years.

The state provided $1.48 billion to higher education in fiscal 2007-2008, but only $284.5 million is budgeted for the fiscal

year beginning July 1. That is an 80 percent decrease in state funding over a five-year period.

During that same period, McNeese State

University has gone from $43 million in state funding to $17.8 million, a

loss of $25.4

million, or a 59 percent drop. Tuition has increased since the

2007-2008 year, but it makes up only half of the lost revenues.

McNeese’s total budget in 2007-2008 was $68.3 million. The budget proposed for the fiscal year starting July 1 is $41.7 million.

Others who spoke were Sandra Woodley, president of the University of Louisiana System; Ronald Mason Jr., president of the

Southern University System; and Joe May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.

Jenkins said LSU has tried to reorganize, increase efficiency and avoid some duplication, but is losing faculty, facing serious

competition from other states and experiencing serious deferred maintenance problems.

LSU has lost 140 faculty members, and the numbers keep growing, he said. The loss of young researchers to other universities

is particularly critical because they take research dollars with them, he said.

Arkansas and Texas are doing some serious recruiting of faculty and students, “and we’ve got to get them back,” Jenkins said.

A bill at the current legislative session attempts to raise student fees to address the maintenance problems, Jenkins said. “The

longer you wait, the more expensive it becomes,” he said.

The UL System universities received nearly $520 million from the state in 2008, but that is down to $224.7 million five years

later. That is a 56.8 percent decline.

Woodley said only 51 percent of the

system’s funding has been replaced with tuition dollars. She said she is

concerned about

the future and the system’s ability to support industries with the

workforce development they need because of fewer dollars

to address needs of the private sector.

“What matters is our students’ ability to pay their bills,” she said.

“We are losing quality faculty, and that affects academic quality. We are trying to work with industries, but need stable

funding.”

Woodley talked about the situation at

the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Louisiana Tech and the

University of New Orleans,

all research institutions within the system.

“High-level faculty want to be around other high-level faculty, and we are losing entire (research) teams,” she said.

Jenkins said higher education is becoming dramatically different. He talked about the technological changes coming over the

next five years.

“We are not paying attention to changing technology needs that are profound,” he said. “Private institutions are becoming

involved.”

Students could be taking online courses and earning credits from Australia, he said.

The speakers said their systems are trying to keep up with technology, but funding losses hamper their efforts.

Jenkins said, “I prefer to be ahead rather than following.”

Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, asked if “butchering” has come after long-term budget cuts to higher education.

Jenkins said that was too strong a word, but higher education in the state is on a downward slide.