As the Acadiana Regional Chairman for the Council for A Better Louisiana, I am concerned about the statewide impact of deep cuts to higher education. I am concerned about their impact on educational opportunities and economic development in our city and our region.
To be very clear, CABL recognizes that there must be budget cuts. Looking ahead, it seems apparent that Louisiana will not have the revenues to fund higher education at current levels over the next few years. That’s why in the face of some level of unavoidable budget cuts, we at CABL are also advocates of higher education restructuring — or to use a better term — re-envisioning.
But we do not believe we can do that successfully if significant cuts occur right now. Just as in the private sector, restructuring — done right — takes time. CABL has put forward a simple proposal: Reduce the cut in state dollars to higher education in half for the upcoming budget year to give post-secondary education time to plan a strategic restructuring or downsizing based upon future fiscal realities. In dollars, that means reduce the original cut in state funding to higher education from about $220 million to about $110 million for the next fiscal year. This is possible and doable, if the will is there.
Why is this so important? Because it’s virtually impossible to make large budget cuts this quickly and expect them to be either smart or strategic. We have a large post-secondary education system that touches every area of the state. If we have to make large cuts now with no time to plan strategically, we know what will happen: We will make mistakes and higher priorities will suffer at the same level as lower ones. That makes no sense if we are trying to re-envision higher education in our state for the rest of the 21st century.
That’s why we say reduce the cut in state funding in half to create a bridge that will allow our state to restructure higher education in the way that makes the most sense. To be sure, that restructuring will be painful. Here in Lafayette, we will see program cuts that we will not like. All of our public post-secondary education institutions will likely be different, just as will be the case across the state.
But we have a choice. These institutions can be different in ways that are strategically planned or different in ways we probably don’t want to contemplate.
Right now, it appears the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Governor have different positions with respect to budget reductions to higher education. In the few remaining days of this legislative session, we urge all three to come together. We must allow higher education to plan for a future that may be smaller, but one that doesn’t come at the expense of quality or the state’s most important priorities.
Regional Vice President
Council for a Better Louisiana