Rising tuition costs, departing faculty and larger class sizes. Louisiana’s next governor will have his hands full when it comes to addressing the future of higher education in the state.
As The Associated Press reports, Louisiana’s colleges and universities have been hit by repeated budget cuts in recent years, leading many to question whether the state will have enough graduates to fill jobs. But the question facing the next governor is where funding will come from and how colleges and universities should best use it.
“No matter what, the next governor is going to have to do something in higher ed,” says Barry Erwin, who heads the Council for a Better Louisiana in Baton Rouge, a nonpartisan think tank that monitors education issues.
Between 2008 and 2015, Louisiana support for higher education dropped by 34%, compared with a nationwide drop of 6%, according to CABL. At the same time, tuition and fees went up by nearly 80%, according to the Louisiana Board of Regents.
All the main candidates for governor—Republicans Scott Angelle, Jay Dardenne and David Vitter, and Democrat John Bel Edwards—agree higher education has been cut too much and have vowed to make higher education a priority. All have talked about the need to free up more money for higher education.
The problem, they say, is that so much of the state’s money is already dedicated to other areas. When budget shortfalls arise, the only areas where lawmakers and the governor can make cuts are health care and higher education. All the candidates have talked about the need to re-examine how budget money is allocated and what’s protected from cuts and scaling back tax breaks to generate new money for higher education.
Educators have been meeting with the candidates to push their message that higher education shouldn’t be looked at as an expense, but as an investment. By 2020, more than half the state’s jobs will need applicants with a postsecondary degree or certificate, but only 28% of adults currently have that, according to CABL.
But finding the money won’t be easy, with the state likely facing another shortfall next year after ending the most recent budget year at a deficit. But some say more money isn’t the only problem, and they’ll be looking to the next governor to make changes to how the system is run.
Stephen Waguespack, who heads Louisiana’s leading business lobbying group, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, says state colleges and universities need more autonomy to deal with issues like buying supplies. He says the Board of Regents needs to scrutinize college programs with low retention or graduation rates or that duplicate programs found at similar institutions nearby.