How big funding cuts in one state affected students

Costs are rising and admissions standards are becoming more competitive

Severe budget cuts have forced public colleges and universities in Louisiana to increase tuition and enact other measures to recoup decreased funding.

National surveys show that Louisiana has slashed higher education funding more than any other state since the recession took effect, with state aid to universities cut by 55%.

When former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) took office in 2008, about 60% of public universities' revenue came from the state. But now, state funding barely covers 25% of universities' budgets. In Louisiana, higher education funding is discretionary—unlike funding for things like prisons and state employee benefits, it changes from year to year. This makes it an easy target for cuts when times are tough.

Budget cuts have resulted in numerous maintenance requests at public colleges and universities in the state being put on hold. The total backlog on deferred maintenance across all of the state's four- and two-year public schools ranges from $1.5 billion to $2 billion. For the entire Louisiana State University (LSU) system, the total deferred maintenance list exceeds $800 million.

The operating budget for state universities, which amounts to about $1.4 billion, has dropped only about 13%, or $40 million, since 2008. However, schools have been forced to increase tuition to make up for decreased funding.

From our experts: Breaking the tradeoff between cost and quality

Over the past five years, Louisiana has increased tuition and mandatory attendance fees faster than any other state. In part because of increasing costs, fewer students are seeking bachelor's degrees. According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, Louisiana was also one of six states to experience a drop in university enrollment between 2009 and 2014. Rising costs and more competitive admissions standards have also led more Louisiana students to select two-year schools.

Changes in higher ed during the Jindal administration

Under the Jindal administration, new rules placed less importance on funding universities that rewarded enrollment above all. The state Legislature in 2010 passed the GRAD Act, which aimed to provide universities with more autonomy and allowed them to tighten their standards. For example, the law prohibited four-year schools from admitting students who needed to take any remedial classes. Universities that reached the goals of the GRAD Act were awarded more state aid.

The law improved some problems, such as boosting graduation rates. However, state cuts in direct aid weakened the reforms, meaning the state has less leverage. In addition, the cuts have more than offset increases in tuition, which has left many campuses struggling to recruit more students. The Board of Regents voted last year to allow some universities a two-year reprieve from the new admissions standards to help them enroll more students.

School administrators hoped proceeds would go back into higher education, but the state employed a "tuition swap" and took as much money out of university funding as increased tuition brought in. Jindal also threatened to take an additional 82% from the remainder of the Louisiana's support for higher education last year unless the state Legislature passed his swap measure (Russell, The Advocate/Hechinger Report, 2/4; Allen, The Advocate, 2/6).

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