Although Louisiana already ranked last in per-student funding by the Southern Region Education Board, the latest data show the state has dug the hole deeper.
Last year, Louisiana was $56 million behind Florida when it comes to spending per college student. Now it trails the Sunshine State by three times that amount — $183 million.
Louisiana spends $12,125 per student in its public colleges and universities, about $1,500 less than Florida does.
That's a mix of funds from students (i.e. tuition and fees) and state appropriations, University of Louisiana System President Jim Henderson explained.
"Our students are paying a higher proportion of costs of higher education," Henderson said.
He said student revenue has moved up to "mid-pack" among SREB schools. But state funds have not.
SREB compares Louisiana to 15 peer states.
"For seven of the last 11 years we've ranked last on a per-student basis," Henderson said. "Three of the last 11 years, we've been 15th out of 16th. The year we were at the highest level of funding, we rose all the way up to 12."
That was fiscal year 2008-09.
"This funding reflects year 12, so it's eight out of the last 12 years now," he said.
It's something that can't continue, he said.
"(If we continue down this road) we're going to be non-competitive," Henderson said. "We're going to continue to lose ground."
That seems apparent to some outside of Louisiana as well.
"The big challenge in Louisiana right now is state disinvestment," Thomas L. Harnisch, director of State Relations and Policy Analysis with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said in an earlier interview. "In order for Louisiana to really grow as a state and take the next step into a knowledge-based economy, it's going to come from renewed investment in the state colleges and universities."
No. 1-slotted Delaware spends nearly $30,000 per student.
"I don't think that's even something to aspire to," Henderson said.
But the SREB average is, Henderson argues. Louisiana is about $4,000 from the SREB average of per-student spending.
Another data point worrying local higher ed leaders is the gap in funding per full-time equivalent student, which widened from $3,483 to $3,972.
Legislators are scheduled to discuss the state's budget and millions of proposed cuts to higher ed next week. Henderson said his role is to make lawmakers aware of the impact of this data.
"It's important they understand the numbers," he said. "If you look at the higher education enterprise, we're ranked 49th in educational attainment. We're dead last in resources per student. It calls into question how high a priority education has been."
"Now is the time when we have to invest in higher education," he added.
And he says it's a smart investment with a strong return. He said the UL System alone has a $3.9 billion economic impact every year.