Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News
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NEW ORLEANS-- For the newest UNO graduates, there were last-minute nerves on Saturday, before the pomp and circumstance.

'I hope I don't trip,' said Gabrielle Olivier, who was graduating from the school's hospitality program.

'I can't believe it's done and I don't have any homework anymore,' said new UNO graduate Laura Himel.

Shondra Clements was getting her degree, along with her mother, Audrey.

'It's an honor to do this with my mom,' she said.

While these graduates head off into their post-graduate lives, those coming after them may experience a state higher education system facing increasing cost-cutting. The issue came up this week, as Governor Bobby Jindal's administration faced a more than $165 million budget deficit, midway through the fiscal year. Out of the new cuts, $22 million will come from the state's higher education programs.

'We've used other sources of revenue as we can, to put forward a balanced budget, without raising taxes,' said Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols. 'Again, protecting health care and education to the best of our ability.'

A legislative budget committee comprised of state Senate and House members listened to the plan Friday, with varying degrees of support.

'Higher ed was able to absolve some of it with tuition increases and some freezing of positions they had before. So, we don't expect any big change in higher education,' said Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego.

'When you have, as this administration has done, cut $425 million in higher ed alone since 2008-- that's worrisome to me and it's also worrisome as it relates to the future of higher education and health care,' said Rep. Jared Brossett, D-New Orleans.

Cuts to higher education during the past few years have not gone unnoticed by students.

'We saw cuts all over. The buildings aren't being taken care of like they used to, the janitorial staff has been cut. There's been a lot of little things that have gone missing from the program,' said Elisha Diamond, a new UNO graduate. 'And the dean is trying to do everything he can, to make the most of what little bit we are getting, but there's definitely been a big change.'

Others worry about the students that will follow in their footsteps.

'I do worry about that for those who are coming behind us,' said UNO graduate Audrey Clements. 'I have one daughter who is still in school, so I know that can affect her as well.'

How much it ends up affecting current and future students may not be fully known until the next state budget debate.

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