For the past six years, higher education leaders in Louisiana have held their tongues in the face of massive cuts in direct state funding for public colleges and universities. Most feared for their jobs if they dared to criticize Gov. Bobby Jindal's pogrom of institutional starvation.
Year after year, Jindal and his legislative allies cut direct state support for higher ed. Then, when the governor's make-believe revenue numbers failed to materialize mid-year, they cut higher ed again. And again. And again. Depending on how you count (Team Jindal has jiggled the numbers so many times they're almost incomprehensible), the cumulative cuts to higher ed range from $700 million to more than $1 billion in the next fiscal year's budget.
Now, as Jindal and lawmakers face a $1.6 billion budget hole — a hole they jointly created over the past six years — higher education is finally finding some champions. However, given the enormity of the state's structural deficit (well over $1 billion a year and growing) and the lack of legislative consensus (not to mention political will) over how to avoid further cuts, many fear it may be too late to stave off disaster.
For his part, Jindal addresses the budget dilemma with the same dissembling doublespeak that he brings to his non-starter presidential campaign. His aides continue to spin the governor's claim that higher ed hasn't really been cut that much since 2008 because the cuts were "swapped" for higher tuitions and fees. While it's true that tuitions and fees have risen significantly under Jindal at public universities, those increases (which blogger C.B. Forgotston calls taxes on students and parents) have not kept pace with the cuts — not by a long shot.
Here's a look at the numbers:
• Since 2008, direct state funding for higher ed has been cut by nearly $738 million. Even when TOPS dollars are counted in the total, that's a reduction of more than 36 percent; excluding TOPS, its almost a 50 percent reduction. Those numbers also include the 80 percent hike in tuition and fees imposed under Jindal.
From the moment kids go to public school in Louisiana 'til the time they graduate from college, they get lied to.
— James Carville
• Since 2008, public universities have cut 336 academic programs, consolidated another 226 program, lost 1,074 faculty members and cut nearly 3,500 support staff and administrators.
• Individual students have felt the pain, too. In 2008, state support plus tuition and fees equaled $12,194 per full-time equivalent student; in 2013, the last year for which figures are available, that figure was $9,726 — almost $2,500 per student less.
• The governor's proposed budget for next fiscal year is even starker. It would cut another $533 million in direct state support for higher ed — a reduction of more than 57 percent — even after a significant increase in TOPS funding.
• To offset that huge cut, Jindal proposes various forms of "supplemental" funding, but there's no guarantee that such funding will materialize. For example, he suggests offsetting $70 million in cuts by raising tuition and fees again, but the state Board of Regents says barely half of that — $36.4 million — would actually be raised.
• Excluding TOPS and the proposed "supplemental" funding, Jindal's budget for next fiscal year would result in a cumulative cut of more than 91 percent in direct support for higher ed since the governor took office. That's why some accuse Jindal of "privatizing" public universities.
Meanwhile, LSU alum and Democratic political firebrand James Carville has become a leading advocate for fully funding higher ed. He threw down a gauntlet when he delivered UNO's December commencement address, and he minces no words today.
"From the moment kids go to public school in Louisiana 'til the time they graduate from college, they get lied to," Carville told Gambit. "We teach them creationism in grade school, and in college we tell them higher ed hasn't really been cut. It's all one big colossal lie. The earth is not 6,000 years old, and higher education has been cut drastically. We need to stop lying to them."
College students are planning a "statewide higher education demon-stration" from noon to 3 p.m. this Wednesday, April 15, at the state Capitol. They chose "Tax Day" for their protest because they are tired of being "taxed" via higher tuition and fees.
Students need to show up en masse to get lawmakers' attention, but what would really get legislators' attention is parents — who vote in much larger numbers than students — flooding the Louisiana legislature with calls and emails demanding full funding for the state's higher education.