Colleges bracing for cuts

BATON ROUGE – When the fiscal year starts July 1, college and university officials are bracing for a possible 30 percent drop in their funding The Board of Regents’ Finance Committee got the bad news Wednesday that because of anticipated reduction of state revenues, higher education is looking at cuts of 18 percent to 30 percent.

“It’s difficult for us to even speculate” on the effect of such a reduction of services, says Donnie Vandal, deputy commission of higher education who handles finances for the board.

“Higher education is very vulnerable,” he said. “The bottom line is we won’t know where we stand until the Legislature deals with the budget” in the session that begins April 27 and ends June 25 - six days before the new budget takes effect.

All cuts are speculative but until then higher education has to be prepared.

“These cuts are of such a magnitude that they can’t be handled by freezing expenses, cutting expenses, travel, little projects, library purchases and like things to get to that magnitude,” he said. “This is a serious, serious amount of dollars. We’ll have to look at programs, positions and other things to see what we have to do to live with this amount to cut.”

Commissioner of Education Sally Clausen said even the lower projected reduction is staggering.

“Any time you take close to 20 percent out of a budget, even a household budget, it’s significant,” she said. “It’s also significant for leaders in higher education to send the message that we will get through this and be focused our primary mission, educating our students.”

University officials are examining their budgets to find ways to implement cuts that have the least impact on providing services, she said.

“There are different ways of doing the same things,” she said, but they have to do it in a short period of time.

The budget cut proposals have to be submitted to the state Division of Administration by Friday of next week, so all higher education staffs are scurrying to find ways to implement the order without scuttling basic services.

Vandal said larger schools have “more flexibility” in handling the cuts but smaller schools don’t have that luxury.

“Some of the schools may throw up their hands and say they don’t know how to handle it,” he said. “The new emerging schools,” such as Louisiana Delta Community College in Monroe, “have a lot tied up” in getting firmly established.

Colleges and universities aren’t the only higher education-related entities that have to make cuts. The Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance, which administers the popular TOPS college tuition grant program, is being cut from its current $129 million to $92 million.

That possibly could result in fewer students getting TOPS scholarships next year.

The university cuts are based on the funding formula that supplies state funds.

If a 30 percent cut is ordered, the LSU System, which receives about 46 percent of the formula funding ($617.1 million), would have to cut a total of $175.8 million from its five campuses and its medical, veterinary, dental and law schools and system office. An 18 percent cut would result in a $97.5 million reduction.

The University of Louisiana System, which receives about 30 percent of the formula ($408.7 million), would have to cut $116.4 million from its eight campuses and system office with a 30 percent cut. An 18 percent cut costs the UL System $64.6 million.

If faced with slicing 30 percent, the Southern University System would lose about $24.2 million at its three campuses, agriculture and law schools. If it’s 18 percent, it would have to cut $13.4 million. The SU System receives about 6 percent of the funding formula ($84.8 million).

The Louisiana Community and Technical College System, including the campus in Crowley, which was exempt from the cuts imposed to cover the $341 shortfall in the current fiscal year budget, so far is not exempt from the larger one that’s pending. The system, which has 10 community colleges and technical college campuses in most parishes, receives about 13 percent of the funding formula ($180.9 million).

If they have to cut their budgets 30 percent, the state’s community and technical colleges would slice a total of $51.5 million. If required to reduce budgets 18 percent, it would be almost $28.6 million.

The Board of regents also faces cuts of $13.4 million with a 30 percent reduction or $7.4 million with 18 percent.

The Louisiana Univer-sities Marine Consortium receives less than 1 percent of the funding formula but would lose $905,434 with a 30 percent cut and $502,315 with 18 percent.

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