Colleges in 'crisis mode' on budgets

By Tom Aswell
Capitol News Service

With the latest round of budget cuts to higher education announced by Gov. Bobby Jindal, college presidents have been thrown into deep crisis mode in trying to figure out how to keep their schools afloat in the wake of still deeper budget cuts.

Recently, while trying to deflect MSNBC's Joe Scarborough's scrutiny of looming budget cuts of up to 40 percent for LSU and tuition costs that have already risen by 90 percent at the state's other public colleges and universities, Jindal kept getting steered back to the $350 million in budget cuts anticipated for the entire state university system.

The LSU campuses are facing cuts of 35 percent to 40 percent, or about $141.5 million which translates to the elimination of 27 percent of faculty positions, 1,572 courses, 28 academic programs and 1,433 faculty and staff positions, according to Associated Press.

That leaves about $210 million in cuts for the other schools, or an average of about $21 million each.

All the latest budget cuts are on top of $460 million in cuts imposed earlier by Jindal.

When pinned down by Scarborough on the proposed university budget cuts, he claimed that it cost "less than $10,000" per year for housing, fees and books at LSU.

When Jindal took office in 2008, tuition and fees at LSU were around $5,000 a year. Because Louisiana has experienced sharp increases in tuition over the past five years as a result of his fiscal policies, however, it now costs $20,564 per year to attend the state's flagship university, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate.

Jindal spokesperson Shannon Bates Dirmann claimed that her boss was not referring to housing costs in his estimate of fees but in a review of the video, Jindal clearly included housing in his estimate.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has conducted a state by state study of cuts to higher education which show Louisiana has undergone the deepest cuts at 43.6 percent from Fiscal Year 2008 (the year that began six months before Jindal assumed office in January of 2008) through FY-13 (2012-2013). There have been two additional cuts since then in Louisiana. The $4,714 per student cut through FY-13, for example, has increased to more than $5,000 since then in Louisiana.

In a related matter, USA Today came upon some interesting statistics on how the proposed budget cuts might impact both college sports and academic programs.

One of the ways athletic programs could be impacted is through elimination of the so-called "paper courses" that help keep student athletes eligible.

Athletes with learning disabilities, and those who are unable to read or write above the fifth- or sixth-grade level and some who have comprehension skills that fall even lower than that are provided special tutors through something called Section 504.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was written to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities.

Section 504 is employed by elementary and secondary schools to help students with learning and other disabilities but is especially popular in college athletic programs, according to one former high school coach who is familiar with the program.

Any school receiving federal funding (which includes all Louisiana colleges and universities) is mandated to provide extra assistance to those with learning disabilities. Section 504, therefore, is protected and exempt from any state cutbacks.

Athletes with learning disabilities, and those who are unable to read or write above the fifth- or sixth-grade level and some who have comprehension skills that fall even lower than that are provided special tutors through Section 504.

These tutors, the former coach said, not only do much of the students' academic assignments for them, but even sit with them during testing, coaching them on when they provide an incorrect answer and often even pointing to the correct answer.

Along with the tutors, many schools steer athletes into what are loosely described as "paper classes" where boiler plate papers are routinely plagiarized and where professors and instructors rarely read those papers but rely instead on the word of counselors who advise them what grade an athlete needs to remain eligible, a practice they call "GPA boosters."

The practice created a major scandal at the University of North Carolina when a former academic advisor finally had enough and blew the whistle on what she described as "counterfeit classes."

Capitol News Service made a public records request of LSU as to how many LSU athletes are currently participating in the Section 504 program but the school responded that it had no record of any such data even though federal guidelines require strict reporting. The same request was made of Louisiana Tech University but Tech officials simply ignored the inquiry and did not respond.

Capitol News Service also compiled figures for Southern University and the nine schools under the University of Louisiana system to determine the amount of state subsidies each school\'c6s athletic program receives.

The data show that the state subsidized the 10 schools a total of nearly $55.2 million during 2013, which represents approximately 26 percent of the total combined cuts anticipated for the schools.

Of the 10 Louisiana schools receiving subsidies, Louisiana Tech had the most at $9.2 million, which was nearly half (49.6 percent) of total revenues.

Though the University of New Orleans had the lowest amount in revenues at $4.3 million and the lowest amount of state subsidies at $2.96 million, its percentage of state support was the highest at 69.33 percent.

The University of Louisiana Monroe was third lowest in the amount of funding from the state at $4.1 million against revenues of $11.2 million for the lowest percentage (36.5 percent) of state subsidies of the 10 schools.

Grambling State University's state funding of $3.63 million was second lowest but it represented nearly 58 percent of its total revenue of $6.3 million, the USA Today report said.

In all, the 10 state schools received 50.7 percent of their sports budget in the form of state subsidies, something the Legislature may have to consider when it convenes in April to tackle the projected $1.6 billion in budgetary shortfalls anticipated for the state budget.

LSU, with revenues of $117.5 million against $105.3 million in expenses, is self-sustaining and receives no subsidies from the state.

The following chart provides the total athletic revenue for that school (including state subsidies), athletic expenses, the amount and finally, the percentage of the state subsidy.