The Louisiana Board of Regents, the agency responsible for allocating funds to higher education, has requested a $1.7 billion higher education budget for the next fiscal year.
"If you go back about five or six years," says Dr. Joseph Rallo, Commissioner of Higher Education, "the budget that came to higher education was about $1.5 billion. And over the succeeding five years, it'd get cut down."
The current budget for the four public university systems in Louisiana is $769 million. An additional $635 million is needed to meet the workforce demands of the state. "All these jobs that are coming to Louisiana require a skilled, educated workforce. And if we are not even right now graduating enough people to fill the current jobs, how are we going to be able to fill the jobs that are coming?" Rallo asks.
The Board also asked for $300 million in TOPS funding.
With the additional funds - nearly twice the current budget - the board "will go out and hire the faculty, get the rooms, get the capacity, to be able to produce more students," says Rallo.
The focus is on training students for those industries that have openings and are well-paying, like water transportation. Rallo says the current budget doesn't meet the workforce demands of the state. "Say you need ten individuals to fill all the jobs. Right now, with our budget, we’re only producing five individuals," he explains. That additional $635 million will be used to hire the faculty, develop the facilities and graduate more students for those jobs.
Whether or not the Legislature will approve the budget request remains to be seen. Rallo recalls sitting in the Capitol on the last day of the most recent session, where Higher Education's budget was uncertain until the very last day. "And so I say to the legislators, we appreciate your support, but you told us we were your number one priority. And yet it wasn’t until forty-five minutes before the end of the session that you actually passed a budget for us. That uncertainty cannot continue," says Rallo.