Also aiming to solve enrollment dip, find tuition flexibility
As Louisiana prepares to likely cut college campuses funding yet again, Bossier Parish Community College is also working on how to improve enrollment and find flexibility with tuition.
Louisiana is struggling through its 14th midyear budget deficit since the 2008-09 fiscal year and a $313 million gap has lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards scrambling to fix the gap before the end of the year. That leaves BPCC and other Louisiana colleges on the chopping block to help balance the budget.
“Unfortunately, we’ve gotten really good at what these numbers mean when we talk about a cut to the state budget and higher education,” said BPCC Chancellor Dr. Rick Bateman.
Dr. Bateman said he foresaw BPCC being affected by the deficit, so the college was able to save five percent of their budget to cope with the cut.
“We can’t not plan. We’re hoping it’s no more than (5%).”
The expected cut to higher education would follow $700 million in state cuts to campuses over the past eight years.
“What has happened over last eight years has been a divestment in higher education that has resulted in higher tuition and fees,” said Dr. Bateman. “The tuition and fees never matched the money that went away. We’re constantly doing more with less. I’m worried about doing less with less.”
As Hurricane Katrina recovery money dried up, former Gov. Bobby Jindal and lawmakers used a series of one-time fixes without solving the budgeting imbalance.
Gov. Edwards and lawmakers attempted to fix the issue earlier this year by making their own cuts and tax hikes. However, it wasn’t enough as declines in jobs are crippling personal income and business tax collections coming into the state’s coffers.
Bateman was complimentary of the local delegation in Baton Rouge, saying he knows they’re working with what they can.
“By and large, our folks do appreciate BPCC and want it to be successful. I understand there’s some limitations they have,” he said. “For fiscal year 2017, BPCC was better funded than it has been in the last 10 years because of the work done by our local delegation.”
In fact, Dr. Bateman believes that funding issues are not so much Louisiana’s financial situation as a combination of factors.
He illustrated this by pointing out that state money makes up less than 1/4 of BPCC’s overall budget. In fact, 76% of the college’s budget comes from tuition and enrollment.
For the first time in years, BPCC saw an enrollment dip this fall. Dr. Bateman pointed out this is a national trend.
“We’re seeing students make decisions that will hurt them longterm,” he said. “We’re seeing students look at the costs and financial assistance, and making the decision to go to work instead.”
Some relief would have come in the form of a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot that would have allowed state higher education institutions to set their own tuition without legislative approval. That amendment failed to pass.
Dr. Bateman said they were hoping for its success on the ballot, not because they wanted to raise tuition, but for flexibility in the marketplace.
“We know we’ve got to be very careful to not price ourselves out of the market. We want the flexibility to do what the market does,” he explained.
For example, Dr. Bateman said BPCC’s position in the Ark-La-Tex allows them to draw out of state students. However, out of state tuition’s higher cost means most students don’t even consider BPCC as an option.
“We need flexibility. We have to be empowered to take advantage of the market. We have such great programs here that I know we could pull students from those areas, but not at the rates we’re required to charge.”
As the lowest funded higher education institution in the state, BPCC has consistently made gains in enrollment and is even the top online college in the state. But as state dollars go away and enrollment shifts, the college can only do so much.
However, Dr. Bateman and his faculty are committed to finding ways to attract students and produce a trained, responsive workforce dedicated to suiting employers’ needs in northwest Louisiana.
“Our hope is to have an operational budget that is all self-generated revenue and what we get from Louisiana allows us to be innovative.”