BY KARA CARRIER
To help balance the state budget, drastic cuts to higher education funding — possibly up to $380 million — will likely be the main topic during this year’s legislative session, which begins April 13.
College system leaders around the state have said the cuts, which could remove 40 percent of college/university state fi nancing, would have dire consequences such as layoffs and program closures.
McNeese State University President Philip Williams said the cuts would adversely affect the university, but offi cials are already discussing and making plans in response.
Williams said with the uncertainty of the state’s budget negotiations, which are months away from resolution, it would be impossible to be specific about what McNeese will do if cuts are made. He said many possible scenarios are being discussed.
In an email to the American Press, Williams said that since news of the $1.6 billion state budget deficit was reported last spring, McNeese has been reviewing and revising its budget strategies. He said the university’s highest priorities are classroom instruction, maintaining and strengthening programs with high student demand and keeping a solid financial footing.
“A number of administrative functions and academic departments have been consolidated, and we continue to ask fewer employees to do more,” he said. “Our focus will be on our educational mission and some services outside of classroom instruction may be affected. Any additional loss of state funding may result in greatly reduced or delayed administrative services.”
Williams said McNeese has proven its resilience to persevere and overcome tough times — such as the major budget cuts in the 1980s and early 1990s and reopening just weeks after Hurricane Rita devastated the campus. He said the university is critical to the economic success of Southwest Louisiana, and faculty and staff will do everything in their power to protect students and their core instructional needs.
“Our region is on the precipice of an economic boom unlike anything experts have seen in our state,” he said. “Employers will depend on McNeese State University to provide science, engineering, math and computer science graduates who will be in high demand for these expanding industrial facilities. As the region’s population expands, there will also be an increased need for graduates in education, health care and business fields.”
Williams said if cuts are made, tuition increases are highly likely. As far as potential closures or loss of jobs, he said McNeese has already reduced its workforce by 20 percent over the last five years without having to resort to layoffs or furloughs.
“However, if state appropriations are reduced to the levels that have been reported over the past two weeks, much creativity will be required to balance our budget with a focus on preserving our instructional mission,” he said.
“McNeese will be transformed, but the university will remain vibrant and innovative as we develop new models for delivering quality education and student services with a personal touch.”
The associated Press contributed to this report.