A recent report on Southeastern Conference school enrollment figures was released, and Louisiana State University sits squarely in the center.
Positioned at No. 7 - out of 14 - with an enrollment of 31,414, LSU has roughly three times the student body of the SEC’s last-place finisher (Vanderbilt, 11,834); and roughly half of the enrollment of the top, student-laden university north of Houston (Texas A&M, 66,426).
In an accounting balancing act, Louisiana changed the way they account for monies that are dedicated to LSU. Instead of direct monies from the general fund, which dropped from $313,946,251 to $204,655,646 (34.81%) during the 2015-2016 fiscal year the legislature added $168,821,596 to the line item “Higher Education Initiative Funds” which, if not for a slight fall in LSU’s self-generated funds, would have caused the university to increase its revenues from 2014-2015 (instead it took a 0.5% hit).
While the final budget for LSU’s 2016-2017 fiscal year has not yet been released, cuts to TOPS - and proposed mid-year cuts to higher education - will probably have an effect on the bottom line - LSU’s overall operating revenues and expenses tallied in at almost $967 million in 2015-2016 - this does not include the health system.
Surprisingly, however, LSU blows most of its SEC peers out of the water when calculating revenues from state funds.
According to LSU’s financials for 2015-2016, the school received $425,221,548 in state monies.
Vanderbilt, the smallest, receives no direct state funding as it is technically a ‘private school.’ Vanderbilt’s revenues are $1.27 billion, with expenses of $1.129 billion.
Mississippi State, on the other hand, received $251 million in 2016 from its state, with revenues at $462 million and expenses at $676 million.
But what of the big boys? A&M receives $289 million, with revenues at $1.66 billion and expenses at $1.58 billion. The dreaded University of Alabama receives roughly $100 million from its state, with revenues at $875 million and expenses at $785 million - the Tuscaloosa, Ala. based university has an enrollment of 37,665.
Perhaps these other schools receive a smaller piece of the pie due to competition with other schools of similar size inside the same state - some of them even in the SEC.
If compared to Arkansas, however, which sits alone in Division I in its home state, the narrative still follows - the Razorbacks get $127 million in state appropriated funds, far less than LSU.
What does it all mean? Well, that once again the State of Louisiana has gone entirely too far down the rabbit hole, banking on situations that were - and are - unsustainable.
The proliferation of TOPS, monies which still found their way to universities where eligible students enrolled, helped to bolster LSU’s coffers beginning in the 1990s. TOPS is now only partially funded, with discussions of more cuts coming this year.
The word cuts is also being applied to higher education in general. LSU is not the only school under that classification in Louisiana, but it receives the lion’s share of the legislative-appropriated funds.
The university has become a huge economic boon to both Baton Rouge and the state, creating jobs both at home and at satellite campuses, as well as supplying huge amounts of dollars to local businesses through athletic success.
LSU is heavily reliant on grant funds, as well, which filter in through awards for research. Those professors and professionals working in R&D on campus require salaries or, at the very least, funds for operation.
LSU is a behemoth, make no mistake, but in the end the students will pay for the misguided financial choices of those at the Louisiana Legislature and the administration of their home school. One can only hope that cuts can come as gradually and smoothely as possible, unlike the TOPS cuts which, very suddenly, left so many unable to return to LSU this spring semester.
It’s neither an easy thing for the school, nor the state representatives, to swallow and enact. The state is looking for ways to shore up millions of dollars - eventually, they’ll need almost a billion - but every million-dollar cut to LSU costs the students in some way, shape, or form.
But, the home of the Bayou Bengals will have no choice but to accept some cuts to its funding, considering how wildly disproportionate LSU’s share of state funds is compared with institutions of similar size and scope.
Louisiana vehemently supports its flagship university, from athletics to academics, but in a world where the state it serves is going broke, LSU will have to make cuts - as we all do.