Brown: Aiming high for higher education

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In just a few short days, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is expected to submit an executive budget that could effectively end higher education as we know it in the state of Louisiana. Reportedly, Governor Jindal’s office has told Louisiana higher education officials to expect as much as a $420 million cut in funding from the state. These cuts come on top of drastic cuts that were made to higher education in 2010/2011.

As a result of the funding cuts of a few years ago, many tenured faculty members from some of our area schools quickly departed and have moved out of state to other institutions.

In short, this situation has to end, and end now.

If we continue gutting higher education every time there are budget shortfalls, how can we attract the business and industry that we must have in order for our state to move forward? Also, how can we keep our best and brightest at home to build both their careers and their futures? Historical evidence proves that once our young people leave Louisiana in pursuit of higher educational opportunities and careers elsewhere, they usually don’t come back.

RandyIf these budget cuts hold true, every institution of higher education within our state (and in our region) will experience drastic cuts in state funding. Locally, LSU Shreveport, Southern University Shreveport, LSU Health Sciences Center, BPCC, Northwest Louisiana Technical College, Louisiana Tech, Northwestern State, Grambling and Louisiana Monroe will all be effected. I have been told by close and reliable sources that our Governor has a plan to eventually cut most all state funding to higher education over the next few years. Thus, most all of our state institutions of higher learning will be more privately funded than publicly funded.

From what I hear, the state will still own the buildings, facilities and equipment under the anticipated plans, but not much else. Thus, we all must question both the validity and the feasibility of such a plan. In today’s economy, most any privately funded school will tell you that long term funding is getting more and more difficult to procure.

A few years ago, our state hospitals were privatized. Now, it appears that higher education in Louisiana is going to follow the same path. Additionally, the recent drop in oil prices have had a large negative impact upon our state’s budget in which there is now a reported $1.2 billion shortfall. Thus, our legislature will have some most difficult situations to deal with in the upcoming session and beyond. It readily appears that the impending cuts to higher education in the days ahead are certainly the result of a combination of our state’s budget woes, as well as the recent drop in oil prices. Lower prices at the pump are certainly a welcomed sight to most all of us and they have so many positive legs in terms of the regeneration of dollars back into our economy. However, there are also many negative effects when a state’s budget is as non-diversified and tied so tightly to a commodity such oil as ours has historically been here in Louisiana.

I have been a Bobby Jindal supporter on many, many issues, but not on everything he has done. Continually gutting higher education at the expense of our young people and their futures is something that I vehemently can not support. And, let me make it clear that I realize it will definitely not be easy to fix this situation. However, as stated above, we can’t keep up the wholesale gutting higher education. If we do, we will definitely pay the price in terms of the lack of business and industry that we will be able to attract to our state, as well as the negative business climate that will result. Reducing state spending on higher education severely limits the options of our best and brightest.

There has to be an amenable answer and solution somewhere. One possible fix down the road may be a consolidation, not of institutions, but of duplicate programs within our state’s higher education system (at least in our region of the state).

In whatever case or cause, Governor Jindal, please, let me urge you to consider the other options available as opposed to another higher education spending cut. I dream of a Louisiana with unlimited opportunities for our young people. Cutting higher education definitely seems to be moving our state backward rather than moving it forward!    

Randy Brown is Publisher of the Bossier Press-Tribune. He can be reached at rbrown@bossierpress.com