Louisiana’s colleges and universities are facing a budget cut of nearly $100 million next year if the Legislature can’t compromise on a tax plan by June 30.
“The impact of that would be extraordinary,” says Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System — which has nine universities, such as Southeastern University and UL Lafayette.
“We’re not talking about marginal cuts right now that could be absorbed with larger class sizes," he says. "We’re talking about loss of faculty, continued disrepair of facilities. At that point, you’re going to talk about whether we will be in the mission of delivering higher education in the state of Louisiana. That’s how important this is."
Last year, for the first time in a decade, higher education in the state wasn’t hit with a budget cut. Henderson and other university system leaders are asking for a second consecutive year of full funding.
"We’re not asking for more money. We’re asking for stability," he explains. "Stability in funding and fulfillment of the TOPS promise are two very simple requests that should be very easy to meet."
Not only are universities across the state facing cuts, but the TOPS scholarship program would only get 70 percent of its funding if the Legislature doesn’t pass additional revenue. Henderson says that would end up costing students about $1,600 more per year to attend a University of Louisiana school, which he says is "an insurmountable hurdle for many of them."
The Legislature showed a willingness to fully fund higher ed and TOPS in next year’s budget, but they couldn’t agree on how to pay for it. Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to call another special session before the end of the month, giving lawmakers a third shot at replacing tax revenue to fill the budget gap and avoid cuts to state services, like higher education.