In 2011, Pennsylvania's then-Republican governor, Tom Corbett, proposed slashing the state's entire higher-education funding by hundreds of millions of dollars, including 50 percent of spending on institutions such as Penn State and Temple. At the time, the proposal was unprecedented in America, and Corbett quickly became one of the most notorious figures in public education. Students and faculty rallied. Advocacy groups and labor coalitions launched campaigns. Even President Obama eventually chimed in.
Ultimately, the Pennsylvania legislature struck a compromise with Corbett, agreeing to cuts of about 18 percent. But Corbett's would-be budget, along with his subsequent proposals to reduce public-education spending, may have doomed him from the get go: In a landslide vote last year, the one-term governor lost his bid for reelection. Political analysts largely attributed Corbett's downfall to his approach to education.
Fast forward four years, and the severe budget cuts now facing Louisiana's higher-ed institutions almost make Corbett seem generous. Republican Governor Bobby Jindal's new budget plan proposes offsetting a $1.6 billion funding shortfall—caused in part by a decline in oil revenues—largely through budget cuts to higher ed. According to school officials, the cuts could add up to $600 million total, or 82 percent of the state's funding for its colleges and universities, for the fiscal year that begins this July. It would amount to the biggest legislative downsizing ever faced by higher education in the U.S.
F. King Alexander, the president of the Louisiana State University system, said Louisiana State (LSU) would consider declaring financial exigency—the equivalent of bankruptcy for academic institutions. And Alexander said as many as a dozen campuses throughout Louisiana could ultimately have to do the same. The cutbacks would mean an uncertain fate for all of the roughly three-dozen institutions within the state's four university "systems," including Louisiana state's 10 campuses, the University of Louisiana's nine, and 14 community and technical colleges. These institutions serve roughly 260,000 students total.