Louisiana's higher education commissioner announced Thursday that the state's public colleges and universities will be forced to suspend classes immediately if more funding for higher education is not obtained by June 30, Julia O'Donoghue reports for The Times-Picayune.
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has opened a special session to address the $943 million shortfall in Louisiana's current budget year.
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 also resulted in numerous maintenance requests at public colleges and universities in the state being put on hold.
Education commissioner warns of losses to come
In a Feb. 11 letter to Edwards' budget chief Jay Dardenne, Louisiana Higher Education Commissioner Joseph Rallo said staff and faculty layoffs in the middle of the semester would lead to cancelling classes—and even graduation—in the spring.
He also noted that the budget shortfall would mean:
In addition, the loss of TOPS funding would mean that most Louisiana high school students would have to pay nearly all of the cost of tuition to attend a public institution. TOPS enables eligible students to attend the state's public colleges tuition-free (O'Donoghue, Times-Picayune, 2/11).
- Stopping all campus construction projects immediately;
- Jeopardizing the accreditation of all state public higher education institutions;
- Cancelling all college sports next year; and
- Assigning an "incomplete" grade to students for cancelled classes.
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