COLUMN: Cuts would go deeper than colleges only
There are no easy answers. I understand that. And I’m not worried about blame concerning the matter. The question is, when does the bleeding stop, because if it doesn’t, the eventual result is death.
Because of free-falling price of fuel, the state of Louisiana has, in recent days been, forecast to potentially see budget cuts of at least $300 million to higher education in the new fiscal year that begins July 1. Some estimates have put the cuts closer to $400 million than $300 million.
Current projections have the state’s financial shortfall at $1.4 billion, and that budget hole is likely to grow if oil prices continue to drop as predicted.
That’s more than significant for those of us living in Lincoln Parish, home of both Grambling State and Louisiana Tech universities.
And even if you’re not one of the thousands of parish residents working at those universities, don’t believe you won’t be affected, because if those kinds of drastic cuts are made, you will.
Consider the number of students and employees of GSU and Tech that shop in our stores and in our restaurants, not to mention all the visitors to those universities who bring money into Lincoln Parish. Drastic cuts could result in smaller student bodies. What happens to sales taxes and revenue in that event?
What about our hotels that house fans coming in for Tech and GSU athletic events and graduations? Those potential cuts could result in a severe reduction in hotel tax money.
GSU in particular is treading in troubled waters. The university was already facing a $3.7 million deficit and a serious dip in enrollment. The term “financial exigency” has been bandied about concerning the school. Interim President Cynthia Warrick in November indicated she had plans to ask the state for financial relief, including asking the Legislature and governor’s office to come up with $762,000 to keep Grambling Laboratory Schools open next fall.
In light of the current budget problems the state is facing, is that even a possibility?
GSU is known for bringing students in from all over the country to Lincoln Parish. The school is desperate for increased enrollment to help ease some of its budget woes. State financing for higher education in Louisiana has been cut by about $700 million since 2008, with only part of that offset by tuition increases on students. But with the news of higher education in Louisiana facing a bigger budget axe than ever before, how much of an enrollment increase is likely for the GSU?
Some legislators and higher education officials have indicated that Louisiana college systems could have to shut the doors of multiple institutions and campuses if the schools have to absorb a funding reduction of $300 million or more. While Grambling State hasn’t been mentioned by name, because of its ongoing financial woes one has to believe its one of those schools.
How would that affect grocery stores and restaurants that serve GSU students, faculty and staff on a weekly basis? What happens to parish K-12 school districts that depending on tax funding from those establishments that would surely see a loss of revenue if GSU was closed? And what about houses and apartments GSU students, faculty and staff rent, buy or lease?
It’s unthinkable and would be a devastating blow to Lincoln Parish.
“The magnitude of cuts being discussed for higher education could mean between 40 to 60 percent reductions of base funding for institutions in a single year. I do feel that all of our universities are critically needed for their regional economies and, especially, to meet the demands for workforce,” said Sandra Woodley, president of the University of Louisiana system, last week when asked about the possibility of campuses shutting down.
Louisiana’s new higher education commissioner, Joseph Rallo, who began that job on Jan. 5, has said, “We can’t cut our way out of this dilemma.”
Rallo said he’s confident people will get creative in finding ways to stave off cuts, saying they’re in the “idea business” for a living.
“We’re guardedly optimistic that we’re going to be able to come up with a portfolio of ideas,” he said.
Hopefully state legislators agree and will work with our colleges to try to find a way to avoid the potential massacre.
If not, the results will be felt in Louisiana and Lincoln Parish for years and years to come.
T. Scott Boatright is a reporter for the Daily Leader. Email him at [email protected].