Presently, the legislature has a budget before it that calls for an additional reduction of between $200 and $300 million to higher education. This would completely devastate all colleges and universities in the state. Yet there is no outrage! Why?
Drastically cutting funds for Higher Education under Governor Jindal has crippled our college system. The net result is a reduction in faculty and staff, cuts in programs, reduction in courses offered, outdated equipment in classrooms and labs, obsolete computers throughout campuses, and un-repaired buildings.
The quality of education has dropped in Louisiana at a time when the rest of the world is focused on educating their children and preparing them for the jobs of the future.
Making matters worse, members of the college faculty feel abused and dismissed. In the recent past, when attacks were directed against higher education, Baton Rouge felt the wrath as faculty and students from around the state descended on the capital demanding redress. Today, outside of a small demonstration from LSU, nothing is being heard. Why?
That is because the spirit of educators has been broken. For the past seven years they have been attacked and their contributions questioned. They are left to believe that the state’s leadership holds them in such little regard that their contribution to improving the state’s economic prospects are minimal. Some believe they are actually held in contempt by the governor and legislature.
Salaries have been frozen for nearly nine years. Consider the impact of that! With the “real” national inflation rate averaging about 5% since 2006 that translates into a loss of income of about 45%. Many faculty members in community colleges attempting to support a family of four qualify for food stamp assistance. What does this say about the value Louisiana places on education and educators?
Why are there are no demonstrations against these outrages as in the past? The spirit of faculty has been broken by the persistent assaults against their profession. The term now is “be thankful that you even have a job.” That insulting comment does not instill pride and motivation. It is belittling and demeaning.
The governor likes to argue that the cuts have been partially made up through other measures. Indeed, tuition and fees have increased about 95% during his administration. If you are a member of the working poor or middle class and do not qualify for Federal Pell Grants, Louisiana’s governor and legislature have placed higher education and the potential to make improvements in your life opportunities beyond the reach of working citizens. Is that something to be proud about?
How does one prepare Louisiana’s population for tomorrow’s jobs if they cannot afford to get the education needed to apply for those jobs? The governor has spent millions luring out of state businesses to Louisiana, but these seeds will not grow in unfertile soil. An ignorant workforce provides no incentive for businesses to move here.
Corporate bribery should be illegal. Paying private companies tax payer money to move to Louisiana is an outrage. If you have an educated workforce with a strong work ethic and suitable infrastructure investments, businesses will come. They will profit by being here. Cutting education and diverting those funds to corporate give-away programs prostitutes Louisiana on the altar of corporate greed.
Another factor that must be addresses is the current emphasis on “Workforce Development.” On the surface this sounds grand. As always, the devil lies in the details. This translates into businesses determining what the curriculum should be in higher education. What happened to the well-rounded, educated graduate capable of adjusting to any job need? Workforce Development trains students for specific occupations. This limits their future potential and in essence turns institutions of higher education into nothing more than advanced trade schools.
High school students in the 1960s were encouraged to train for future jobs in technology. “Key Punching” became the mantra. Key punching was a technical job where one typed holes in computer cards for IBM mainframe computers. That was before electronic memory, the desktop computer, Apple Corporation, Microsoft, and modern software. We trained people for an obsolete occupation! Are we walking down that road again?
The purpose of higher education is to expose students to a variety of intellectual pursuits, enhance critical thinking skills, open their minds to diverse perspectives on given situations, and instill in them a desire and value for learning and thinking. This generalized approach provides them with the tools needed to adjust themselves to the ever changing workplace.
This can only be achieved in an environment designed to enhance learning. That means top notch educators, quality equipment, suitable facilities, and a strong belief in the value of an educated workforce.
Louisiana has lost its way under Governor Jindal. His narrow approach to learning coupled with his failure to comprehend the essentials of real economic development has damaged the state. It is past time for members of the legislature to challenge him, reverse course, and save our higher education institutions. They must make a stand now because another round of Jindal cuts of the magnitude discussed will kill our colleges and universities.
Failure to meet this challenge will dash the hopes of our children and those seeking to improve their prospects for a prosperous future. Failure to reverse this trend will render them capable of merely asking: “Do you want fries with that?
Ron Chapman is an award-winning columnist, a community college professor and a businessman. He lives in Chalmette, La.