Budget cuts could leave a scar

Olivia Barfield

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A potential $4.1 million in cuts to ULM would lead to noticeable changes

Louisiana’s budget cuts to higher education have forced universities in the state to scale back bit by bit for years, cutting programs and classes while simultaneously raising tuition.

Now the budget issues are leading to what could be a $131 million cut to higher education and a $4.1 million cut to ULM in March. This will happen if a solution is not formed in the upcoming three-week Special Session that will begin Feb. 14.

Higher education officials were recently warned of the possible cuts that will have to be made if the Louisiana Legislature doesn’t agree to raise taxes over the next two months.

Last Monday, higher education leaders across the state submitted plans detailing how they would handle such huge deductions.

For the University of Louisiana system, the cut would be $38 million. The cuts would mean faculty and staff furloughs, loss of accreditation for some schools, cut funding for research centers, less degree programs, less courses and more.

ULM specifically would be cut $4.1 million. According to an email sent to faculty and staff last Tuesday on behalf of President Nick Bruno, such a large deduction would be especially significant at this point in our fiscal year.

ULM also prepared its own plan to deal with the cuts. The plan can change, but now it consists of a hiring freeze, a one day per week furlough for all “eligible employeesover a four month period, reduction in travel, laying off up to 34 non-permanent employees and reducing operating fund transfer to athletics.

“I cannot overemphasize how important it is for each of us to continue to communicate with our friends, family and elected officials that higher education is a high priority and critical to our state’s future economic growth,” Bruno said in the email.

He then urged faculty and staff to push for permanent funding solutions.

Bruno writes that he shares in the frustration and anxiety of the entire faculty and staff, but he encourages them to continue to focus on moving forward and providing students with the best academic experience possible while pushing for permanent solutions statewide.

“This challenge is not unique to ULM. This challenge is a challenge for higher education statewide… The temporary ‘fixes’ of the past cannot continue,” Bruno said.

According to student life and leadership director Laura Jennings, it won’t take long for students to notice the cuts, if they are made.

Jennings said that the university has gone through years of budget cuts with students largely not noticing a lot of the changes that had to be made. This time, the changes will be more visible.

“There’s no fat left to cut. Some of the meat has been cut too. This is all that’s left,” Jennings said.

Jennings hopes that students pay attention to the cuts and take them seriously.

Olivia Sage, a senior political science major, wishes the same. She encourages others to be weary of the changes that come with cuts. For Sage, future tuition raises and potential scholarship cuts courld be detrimental.

“As a student that relies on that (scholarships) it really would affect my life negatively,” Sage said.

Louisiana, which fell under the guidance of democratic governor John Bell Edwards last month after 8 years with republican governor Bobby Jindal, is still dealing with budget issues from Jindal’s reign in the state capital.

When Edwards was sworn in last month, he inherited a deficit of $700 million to $750 million in the state’s current budget, and a projected $1.9 billion deficit in the next fiscal cycle.

Higher education has experienced heavy damage from the budget crisis, with cuts equaling $40 million since Jindal took office in 2008. State funding to universities has been cut by 53 percent, making Louisiana the top state for cutting higher education funding.

These cuts have been mostly balanced out of the pockets of students, with tuition and mandatory attendance fees rising faster in Louisiana than in any other state.