Budget-cut weary colleges brace for more bad news

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by Melinda Deslatte / Associated Press

wwltv.com

Posted on May 11, 2010 at 6:41 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 11 at 9:10 PM

BATON ROUGE, La. - The state's higher education leaders outlined their worst-case scenario Tuesday for budget cuts -- only to be told that might not be the worst case.

College officials have been asked by legislative leaders to draw up plans for what the loss of nearly $300 million in federal stimulus money in about 14 months would look like for individual schools.

They described cut scenarios to the Senate Finance Committee, saying the loss of the stimulus money -- if not back-filled with state dollars -- will force widespread layoffs, damage student instruction and cause the loss of research and grant money.

The cuts, on tap for the 2011-12 budget year, would come after budget cuts over the last year and a half have sliced state funding to the schools by $250 million.

"We've cut on the margins. We've tried to maintain the academic core. As we move to the next level, we'll have to go beyond that," said Randy Moffett, president of the University of Louisiana System.

LSU leaders devised a spreadsheet that shows what happens with a $300 million cut.

If doled out evenly to all four-year schools, it could force more than 1,700 layoffs and slash nearly one-third of state funding to each campus. If the eight smallest four-year schools were shut down and 50,000 students were displaced from their campuses, that still wouldn't rescue other colleges from substantial cuts, under the scenarios presented to lawmakers.

Even if the community and technical colleges were held safe from cuts, as the spreadsheet envisioned, more students would be pushed onto those campuses because of the slashing at four-year schools -- and the community colleges wouldn't get any additional dollars to pay for them.

University chiefs stressed they weren't proposing these ideas, but were just offering the information requested by lawmakers.

"We have been reluctant to have such discussions in a public forum because the magnitude of the conversations gets personally interpreted," said Commissioner of Higher Education Sally Clausen.

She added, "Today is to discuss the options and the scale of the situation we face."

However, the committee chairman, Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, warned the cuts might even be deeper. As the state loses more than a billion dollars in stimulus cash propping up various agencies, Michot said lawmakers may take more dollars from public colleges to replace stimulus dollars that had been paying for health care services and other state expenses.

"This is the least of what you will potentially have to absorb," Michot told the college leaders.

Tuition increases couldn't possibly make up the dollars that would be cut, LSU System President John Lombardi said. "Tuition is a help, but the help is not sufficient at this scale to solve the problem," he said.

And it's unclear how much help the schools will have from tuition increases. A bill to give colleges the ability to raise tuition without a vote of the Legislature faces a tough road to legislative passage.

Lawmakers on the Senate panel asked the higher education leaders to look for more efficiencies on campus, to boost online courses and to continue to find ways to streamline campus spending. Clausen said the cuts proposed would require far deeper slashing than that.

Lombardi said it would take 15 years to recover from the types of cuts proposed, and he said the schools will have to start making decisions now. He said many of the layoffs and other program changes would take a year to implement.

"To do $300 million, we're going to have to dismiss a high number of faculty and staff. That will require notices," he said.

"We'll have to pull the trigger somewhere around July 1."

 

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

 

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