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How Will the Next Governor Pay for Higher Education?

Higher education in Louisiana has been steadily dealt the budget axe, even as the state worked to grow its community and technical college system. How do the candidates for governor plan to fund higher ed, with continued budget shortfalls expected?

David Vitter says he’ll just put a halt to the problem.

“Higher ed has been cut and cut and cut, that has to stop, pure and simple. That's why I would start my administration with a special session on spending reform and tax reform to stop that never-ending cycle of cuts.”

Scott Angelle says he’ll put the money where it will do the most good.

“Putting our community and technical colleges on steroids, muscling them up in a variety of ways. 60% of the jobs that we’ll create over the next ten years will require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four year degree.”

At a recent forum at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, students asked the candidates whether they plan to keep TOPS scholarships intact.

“I am absolutely committed to the TOPS program,” John Bel Edwards assured them. “As your Governor, we’re gonna end the practice of annual double digit tuition increases. That will keep the cost of the program in check.”

Jay Dardenne is less sure TOPS will continue to cover all tuition, as it presently does. Dardenne said he would have signed a bill Governor Jindal vetoed, which would have capped TOPS at the current level. It would have let the Legislature adjust TOPS upward if there’s sufficient money to do so.

“It’s going to remain a priority,” Dardenne stated, “but I think the Legislature has to have some discretion when we face severe budget deficits like we did this year.”

“I do not believe that we ought to cap the TOPS program,” Angelle declared. “I believe we ought to eliminate low-performing programs as opposed to penalizing high-performing students.”

Although Vitter wasn’t at that particular forum, at another he indicated his agreement with Angelle on cutting some college programs to reduce higher education costs.

“In greater Shreveport-Bossier, there are four separate public nursing programs. We don't need four different public administrations running the show at additional cost. We need to streamline and consolidate that,” Vitter stated in April.

Regarding TOPS, Vitter’s website states he would consider a cap, much like the bill Jindal vetoed this year.