By John Hanley
Over the past few months, higher education in Louisiana has been in the midst of a nail-biting struggle against budget cuts. Following Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposal to cut higher education’s budget by over 80 percent, LSU’s administration braced for potential monumental shifts in the university’s functionality, but members of the college community and beyond rallied to save their jobs and their schools. Organizing protests and fighting tooth and nail, higher education supporters ultimately said enough is enough and refused to accept any further cuts to education.
September will bring with it the culmination of the past few months’ efforts. Although LSU and higher education overall may still face some cuts, the actions of protesters, legislators, and lobbyists have ensured that the cuts will remain relatively minimal – not nearly as devastating as the original state budget had proposed.
“Higher education was essentially kept whole in the state budget due to the actions of the legislature,” said Ernest Ballard, LSU’s Media Relations Director.
Ballard noted that beyond this, no exact details are currently known about higher education’s budget. September 18 will be the date to mark on the calendar, with the Board of Supervisors meeting slated to happen at 1pm in the LSU University Administration building. The Board of Supervisors will approve the 2015-2016 fiscal year operating budget at this meeting, which will bring with it information about any cuts that had to be made.
Following the Board of Supervisors meeting will be the Board of Regents budget hearings at 9 a.m. on Wed., September 23. The hearings will take place on the sixth floor of the Claiborne Building in Room 6-242 according to the Board of Regents’ website. Dr. Katara Williams, the Board of Regents’ Assistant Commissioner for Public Affairs, noted that budget documents will be posted prior to the hearings, but that no budgetary figures are currently available.
Although the future of Louisiana’s higher education is looking somewhat brighter than it was when Jindal’s budget proposal was first announced, an article published by Nola.com on Aug. 14 noted that there are still some dim days ahead for Louisiana colleges and universities.
According to the article, Louisiana higher education has already taken on the bulk of a $4.6 million cut. The article noted that, given that the budget for higher education has not even been released, these early cuts are foreboding for what the near future may hold in terms of further cuts.
LSU administrators remain positive, however. A budget update posted on June 11 stated that “early indications are positive, pointing to higher education being funded at the same level as the previous fiscal year.
A post on LSU’s Budget Hub also stated that LSU’s priority for the coming fiscal year is “budget stability.” Administrators plan to do what they can to ensure that the budget remains at least the same in fiscal year 2016 as it was for fiscal year 2015.
According to the post, “Constitutional protection for higher education’s base funding levels would provide an additional layer of future stability, so that we would be able to engage in long-term planning with confidence and accuracy.”
Beyond maintaining current stability for LSU, administrators’ second priority would be to use that stability to better plan for the future and handle long-term effects of current and future budget cuts. Regardless of this extensive planning and preparation, however, LSU administration, faculty, students, and community members will need to be prepared, come what may at the end of September.