By Claire Salinas
The higher education budget in Louisiana has been slashed too many times to count in recent years, and looming large on the horizon is another proposed cut — one that could reach up to nearly seven million dollars for this fiscal year.
On April 15, Student bodies and student government presidents from colleges across Louisiana including LSU, BRCC, and Southeastern University are united at the state capitol to raise their voice and let legislators know that without funds, there will be no future for higher education in the state.
“Students should be able to really together on one common point and come together as a group to let our legislators in Louisiana know higher education is important to us,” said BRCC Student Government Association President Robert Fisher.
Fisher knows firsthand the impact budget cuts have had on his campus.
“Back in 2008 our budget allocation from the state was 21 million dollars. Since then our budget has been slashed and we have only received nine million dollars, which is a little bit over a 50 percent cut in six years,” Fisher said. “For a college to operate like that is difficult. You never know what programs may have to be cut which doesn’t allow students to finish their degree if the program is terminated.”
Stephanie Travis, Student Government President at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, is organizing the event and believes legislators will have a hard time ignoring faces on the steps of the capitol.
“We’re asking people to show up in numbers. We want to say we are united. We are going to have student government presidents and student body presidents talking about our personal experience and how we have become better through higher education,” Travis said. “We want to get a whole bunch of people there and demand that they listen to us. We will have one student from every institute of higher education in Louisiana present talking about why higher education is important and why we need to continue funding it.”
According to Travis budget cuts have had a noticeable impact on her campus as well.
“The quality of education over the past year is so much worse than it was five years ago. There are way less employees and the same amount of students. So classes are getting larger and there’s less staff to help you with career services. What’s happening is we’re getting a less quality education. I know professors who are saying, ‘I can’t answer my students questions like I want to because I just don’t have time.’”
Fisher will be making a bold proposal during the protest, but he feels it could be just what is needed to prevent future budget cuts.
“I will mention the idea of a Constitutional Convention and an amendment for higher education. Currently in the Constitution higher education and healthcare are the only two areas not protected in the general funds. We want our legislators to look at long term solutions to alleviate the problem so it doesn’t come up again.”
Travis wants to remind legislators about the value degrees bring to the community as well as the state.
“Students who get degrees are ready for the world. You got to college yes to get a degree, and hopefully you find a job in your field when you get out, but it’s about your experience. Graduates know how to become informed citizens, they know who to vote for and they know where to get the info they need to make those choices.”
Universities throughout the state will be represented with Southeastern Louisiana University and Nicholls sending shuttle buses, and UNO and UL Lafayette organizing carpools.
Travis is encouraging anyone who supports the cause to come out.
“We want to see people come out and the community is more than welcome to be there as well. We want anybody that believes that higher education is important to the future of that state to show up.”