Ashes, Ashes…

When it comes to higher education, this current legislative session really brings nothing new to the table that hasn’t been discussed in previous sessions. Yes, this year we finally cut TOPS – which prior to now was the third rail in Louisiana politics – so a “standstill budget” really means no longer fully funding TOPS.

But lost in the equation is the fact that TOPS was originally meant to fund student tuition, not necessarily the colleges they go to.

There are other things that need funding too.

Like the buildings that students actually go to class in.

One of the metaphors I’ve used for Louisiana higher education is that of a building that is on the verge of collapse.

But, well, there are literal, non-metaphorical buildings that really are on the verge of collapse, due to deferred maintenance. Deferred maintenance is exactly that – maintenance that should happen to keep a building in good condition, but has been put off due to lack of funds.

Especially here in hot, humid, and rainy Louisiana, if you don’t maintain a building properly, it won’t be long before it will need a whole lot more than just routine maintenance.

Bob Mann has written extensively on this, particularly on the sad condition at LSU’s Middleton Library. He’s also written several times about the shocking conditions at Southern.

While pictures tell a compelling story, I also like me some data to back up qualitative evidence.

So, when I read this today about how ULM is divesting its natural history collection because, funding (OK, so maybe I am a bit behind since this was almost a month ago) – I clicked through to this article listing each higher education institution’s level of deferred maintenance.

Someone in facilities administration might look at this and may argue that the best way to quantify the level of deferred maintenance would be by the number of square feet and number and condition of buildings on each campus. The Board of Regents keeps data on this in its Facilities Inventory and Space Utilization System. But since our state has decided that it wants to continue cutting higher ed and drive us toward an increasingly tuition-funded paradigm, I thought it would be interesting to see what the deferred maintenance is at each campus per capita, based on fall 2016 enrollment as reported to the Board of Regents.

And what I found was… holy &*&%!

System Institution Deferred Maintenance (millions) Fall 2016 Headcount Deferred Maintenance Per Capita
LSU LSUHSC-New Orleans $249.0 2,758 $90,283
LSU LSUHSC-Shreveport $55.7 874 $63,730
SUS SUBR+Law Center $156.0 6,922 $22,537
LSU LSU $718.0 32,031 $22,416
UL Grambling $48.9 4,891 $9,998
SUS SUNO $16.2 2,430 $6,667
UL Nicholls $39.1 6,295 $6,211
UL UL Monroe $46.8 9,220 $5,076
LCTCS CLTCC $10.2 2,052 $4,971
UL UNO $39.0 8,037 $4,853
LSU LSUE $13.2 2,909 $4,538
LCTCS SOWELA $14.2 3,241 $4,381
LCTCS Fletcher $8.7 2,063 $4,217
LCTCS Delgado $54.1 15,455 $3,500
UL McNeese $26.7 7,635 $3,497
LCTCS SCLTC $7.5 2,176 $3,446
SUS SUSLA $11.2 3,309 $3,385
UL Southeastern $48.1 14,575 $3,300
UL La Tech $41.3 12,660 $3,262
LCTCS SLCC $20.2 6,396 $3,158
UL Northwestern $30.5 9,904 $3,079
LCTCS LDCC $10.3 3,687 $2,794
UL UL Lafayette $44.0 17,763 $2,477
LSU LSUA $6.4 3,234 $1,978
LCTCS Northshore $3.6 4,197 $858
LCTCS BRCC $5.3 8,497 $623
LSU LSUS $2.3 4,742 $485

I don’t know how the med schools stay open. It is really apparent just from the level of deferred maintenance that cuts both to higher education and to health care have taken them to the very brink.

And among the rest of the institutions, LSU and Southern have about the same level of ungodly deferred maintenance per capita – over twenty-two freaking thousand dollars per student. To be fair, I combined Southern Law Center’s enrollment with SUBR’s since LSU’s enrollment includes their law students now that LSU Law has been consolidated into the main campus operations.

To put this in perspective, this figure is over twice the annual in-state tuition and fees charged per student at LSU. Which also funds teachers and such.

There is no way that student tuition and fees will get LSU and Southern out of this hole. Without additional funding, this number is going to get bigger and bigger and bigger. It is already unmanageable.

Not that things are like paradise at other institutions. Grambling’s deferred maintenance per capita is almost 35% more than annual tuition and fees, and conditions at its library are so bad that it is shutting it down. Deferred maintenance at nearly all other institutions are at levels that again, are impossible to make up for just through tuition and fees and financial sleight of hand alone.

According to the Board of Regents, institutions have received a TOTAL of $274 million for deferred maintenance over the LAST TWENTY YEARS. That is less than forty percent of LSU’s CURRENT deferred maintenance needs.

I am not at all surprised by the deferred maintenance at Southern and some of the other regionals and HBCUs. But back when I started personally chronicling the impact of the Jindal administration on higher ed, and even after I began publishing and blogging publicly a couple of years ago, I continued to operate under the assumption that no matter what else happened, that if our flagship were truly threatened, that is where the state would draw the line.

I believe this no longer.

Louisiana does not value higher education, period. We don’t even value our own flagship except on Saturdays during college football season.

As long as we have just enough to field our football teams in the fall, then it’s enough.

But beyond that,

We. Don’t. Care.

As I’ve said in a previous blog, Jindal may have started this, but this isn’t just his legacy – it’s all of ours. If we don’t want to pay for higher education – since as Rep. John Schroder argued in a recent committee meeting, legislators are merely representing their constituents who want tax and budget cuts – then we don’t want it – period.

Ashes, ashes,

We all fall down.

Maybe not right away,

But soon,

One leaky roof, broken window, and crumbling foundation at a time.

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