Shared from the 1/22/2017 American Press eEdition

Let’s talk about higher education

On Feb. 15, the McNeese Faculty Senate will host state legislators in a town hall forum on higher education to discuss their plans and vision for the future of higher education in Louisiana.

In 2012, the state appropriated $27 million to McNeese. Last year that amount dropped to $19 million. These numbers are mirrored in the budgets of other state institutions.

Higher education spending has meanwhile increased 17 percent in Arkansas, 33 percent in Mississippi and 55 percent in Texas. Most recently, TOPS was reduced to 41 percent of tuition for the spring 2017 semester, yet Louisiana faces a new budget deficit greater than the cost of a fully-funded TOPS program.

The hard truth is that multi-million-dollar budget gaps, as has been the pattern, are increasingly likely to be satisfied by closing degree programs and, eventually, entire campuses. That is the crux of the Board of Regent’s Master Plan, termed Elevate Louisiana, which was adopted at the board’s December 2015 meeting.

The board admits as much by asking on its own website: “Can Louisiana sustain a state-supported $1.571 billion enterprise (2008-2009) on less than $700 million (2016)?”

Cuts and closures aren’t without costs of their own. Headcount reductions at McNeese have so far been met through natural attrition. However, the duties of those who leave must be distributed across the remaining faculty, staff and administration. Additional cuts will further impact educational quality and thereby reduce Louisiana’s ability to compete for jobs. It should also be noted that, since 2008, parishes that host a university have seen 40,000 net new jobs, compared with only 4,000 jobs in parishes that do not host a university.

Stark realities confront the Louisiana higher educational system. The current situation reflects the fact that a decade of cuts has weakened Louisiana’s colleges and universities. What is needed is a path to budgetary sustainability, which is the purpose of the town hall forum.

The forum will be held on the Mc-Neese campus on Feb. 15 from 5 8 p.m. Anyone interested in this discussion is encouraged to attend.



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