Should members of the LSU Board of Supervisors disclose who receives their scholarships?|
|LSU's ranking speaks volumes|
When U.S. News and World Report released its annual ranking of colleges and universities last week, it confirmed what we expected of LSU's standing among the best higher educational institutions in the United States.
Though still ranked a Tier One university, LSU dropped six places from 128 to 134 on U.S. News' "Best Colleges 2013" list. Harvard was ranked No. 1.
A private institution, Tulane University in New Orleans outdid LSU with the Green Wave's No. 51 ranking. The only other publicly funded university in Louisiana to make the cut as a Tier One institution was La. Tech.
Tech broke into the Tier One ranks last year at No. 194. For 2013, though, Tech dropped to the lowest possible ranking for Tier One schools at No. 199. Five other universities joined Tech at the bottom of the rung. Those five were East Carolina University, South Dakota State University, University of Montana, University of North Carolina-Charlotte and the University of South Dakota.
LSU's drop for the second year in a row on U.S. News' "Best Colleges" list can easily be explained. That is, five years of budget cuts have taken their toll on the state's Flagship University. As state funding dried up, courses and majors were cancelled, distinguished professors left for greener pastures and the university's physical well-being was ignored.
There's plenty of blame to go around for why the state has cut some $500 million in funding for Louisiana's colleges and universities since 2008. The No. 1 culprit concerns simple arithmetic, or 'rithmetic as Bill Clinton would say.
Thanks to an abysmal economy that has gripped the nation, including Louisiana, since the fall of 2008 when the financial markets collapsed, state tax revenues, including sales and income, have plummeted. Tax incentives to lure new businesses to Louisiana and assist existing ones with their expansions have created havoc for the state's checkbook, too.
Additional fuel on the fire on the financial front is a constitutional and statutory matter.
Let me explain.
Roughly two-thirds of the state budget is dedicated by law, constitutionally or statutorily. Accordingly, when the state's income takes a downward turn, the Legislature and the governor must turn to the other one-third to level cuts to balance the books. Unfortunately, health care and higher education comprise much of that one-third.
Those who believe money grows on trees – the big government crowd – have a simple solution for the state's financial straights, including the lack of funding for higher education. Raise taxes, either directly or by abolishing all of those exemptions the business community enjoys. That's what they say, while ignoring the many lucrative exemptions that taxpayers are afforded when filing their personal state income tax returns.
Conservatives believe the state can do more with less. In other words, let's streamline government even further and the money that's saved through streamlining could be used elsewhere. Higher education could be an option. Additional tax cuts would be an option, too.
The fact of the matter is each side is right to some degree, but convincing the general public of the need to abolish some tax exemptions while curtailing more state services is not any easy chore. Besides, Gov. Bobby Jindal will not go along with any movement to raise income for state government to spend, including more money for higher education.
Where does that leave us?
Your guess is as good as mine, but a word of a caution is in order in light of the recent agreement between the LSU Athletic Department and the university in general to divert athletic department profits to the university's general fund. Though it represents a tidy sum of money (at least $7.2 million annually), it's far from enough to fuel LSU's efforts to distinguish itself as one of the best university's in the country.
One thing is for sure, though. Too many more cuts in funding to the state's colleges and universities and Louisiana won't be able to point to any publicly funded university as a Tier One member of U.S. News' widely respected ranking of the best of the best in the nation.
Mark my word.
And Tech will be first to go.