Several states are facing the prospect of major cuts to higher education while their counterparts are enjoying slow but steady funding increases. They are the outliers in this year’s budget season and they have the attention of the education world.
Daniel Hurley, associate vice president for government relations and state policy at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said the cuts proposed by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal are “by far the most severe.”
“The governor is basically recommending a dismantling of the public higher education system,” Hurley said. Jindal’s proposal — which could cut nearly half a billion dollars from the system — would mean significant layoffs and massive reductions in class offerings for students. Louisiana State University spells out the repercussions of the cuts on its budget summary website:
28 academic programs eliminated
10,381 decrease in student enrollment
$91 million loss of tuition revenue
$152 million loss in research grants
16,500 fewer 4-H participants
Elimination of parish-based Ag Extension model
Fewer graduates to meet state’s workforce needs
While not as extreme, Republican governors in Wisconsin, Kansas, Arizona, and Illinois have been making headlines with their own budget proposals that include hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to higher education funding. Ironically, Bruce Rauner’s bid for the governor of Illinois included a substantial focus on his commitment to education. While his first draft budget included $25 million more for early childhood programs, it also featured a $209 million cut for the University of Illinois, where President Robert Easter said that amount represented a 31.5% reduction overall.
“A reduction in the appropriation at the magnitude proposed will certainly impact our core missions,” Easter said in a letter to the university community after Rauner’s first budget address.
Arizona students swarmed the state's appropriations committee Thursday, protesting higher education cuts in their state that could remove more than $100 million from colleges and universities. There, as well as in Illinois and Louisiana, however, the state budget is still up for discussion and ultimately will need the approval of legislators. In Kansas, an across-the-board, 2% cut to higher education will take effect March 7 without the approval of the state legislature. According to U.S. News and World Report, that should add up to $16 million in cuts from its university system.
Hurley, though, said the overall picture in the higher education landscape is a positive one. Beyond the handful of states proposing cuts, overall funding is on the rise. Most states are not back to pre-recession funding levels, but as the economy improves, their payments to public higher education increase. Hurley expects it will be several years before many states return to their pre-recession appropriations, especially when it comes to per-student funding, but he highlights the “collective, sustained, modest growth” across the industry and points to the period of stability we seem to be entering, economically.
“Higher education is often the balance wheel of state budgets,” Hurley said. “When there’s a recession, there are cuts; when times are good, they get big increases. With an improving economy, hopefully we are going to see continued support for higher education and a very modest increase in tuition prices. That’s good for everyone.”
It will be good for those who get to experience it, that is. Louisiana and its fellow outliers likely will not be so lucky.
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