THIBODAUX – Students, faculty and staff of Nicholls State University have joined forces to spread the word about the continuing budget cuts to higher education.
Since 2008, state support for Nicholls has been slashed by more than $10 million – a 29 percent reduction in state funding – resulting in 117 full-time positions eliminated; eight degree programs and four concentrations eliminated; and more than 400 current students and thousands of future students negatively impacted.
Now the university is projected to lose an additional $10.8 million in state and federal support, effective July 1, 2011, which would put 18 of the remaining 27 academic programs at risk, sabotaging the education of thousands and eliminating hundreds of faculty and staff positions.
To try to prevent disaster, the Nicholls community is reaching out to the people of Louisiana and the nation, so that they will understand the educational, economic and cultural necessity of Nicholls to the region:
- Eight out of 10 nurses in the region are Nicholls graduates.
- Four out of 5 teachers in the region are Nicholls graduates.
- Nine out of 10 Nicholls graduates choose to live and work in Louisiana.
- Nicholls is the only four-year institution in the Bayou Region, so it provides much-needed geographical access to education. Three-fourths of the student body come from the immediate six-parish area, and 64 percent of Nicholls freshmen are first generation college students. Without Nicholls, students would be forced to drive to New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Hammond or Lafayette to pursue a four-year degree. Faced with the time and expense of a long commute, many would choose not to attend college.
- Nicholls helps businesses thrive. Spending by university employees, retirees, students, visitors and contractors generates an annual $56 million impact, primarily in Louisiana.
- A 2008 study revealed that for every $1 Louisiana invests in Nicholls, the state gets $8 in return. Nicholls pumps $274 million into the state’s annual economy and provides 4,600 private- and public-sector jobs throughout Louisiana.
- Nicholls faculty research involving coastal erosion, sugar cane processing, shellfish and oysters helps ensure the continuation of south Louisiana’s way of life.
- Nicholls students and employees have given 176,000 hours of volunteer service and worked on countless projects to enhance local businesses and industry.
- Over the past 62 years, Nicholls has awarded nearly 40,000 degrees and has provided educational opportunity, community service, locally oriented research, cultivation of the arts and generations of economic activity to the service region.
- Nicholls enhances life with cultural opportunities. Above and beyond university activities, Nicholls serves as a hub for cultural programming, family-friendly activities and community-building events.
Nicholls also remains competitive in retention and graduation rates, number of graduates, professional accreditations and average ACT scores – even though, of all 14 four-year institutions in Louisiana, Nicholls faculty members have the third lowest average salaries and Nicholls receives the second-to-lowest state funding per full-time student.
To prevent irreparable institutional harm, or even nonexistence as further budget cuts draw closer, the Nicholls community is encouraging the wider community to take action by contacting their state government officials and asking that they:
- Eliminate the cap on tuition to require students to pay for every credit hour taken. Currently, students pay for only 12 credit hours. Eliminating the cap could generate $4.1 million in revenue for Nicholls. Louisiana and North Carolina are the only states in the union that offer classes at no charge.
- Allow higher tuition for higher cost degree programs.
- Create a minimum funding formula per full-time student equal to the regional average for similar Louisiana institutions. Such a formula could generate $3.6 million in revenue for Nicholls.
- Stop cutting higher education until all other state agencies have received equal or even greater budget reductions.
On Friday, Sept. 24, Dr. Stephen T. Hulbert, university president, called an emergency university town hall meeting of students, faculty and staff to discuss these issues and encourage engagement among all constituents and community members. Word spread via social media, e-mail, text messaging and person-to-person contact. As a result, more than 800 people attended the meeting in Talbot Hall theater – so many that the theater overflowed, forcing the latecomers to watch the address on a closed-circuit television in the theater lobby.
“It’s time to stand and fight, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Hulbert said, adding that the people of the region need to contact their state officials and “ask not, ‘Are you supportive?’ but, ‘What are you doing to correct this problem?’”
As a result of community response, a second university town hall meeting, open to the public, is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7, in Peltier Hall.
“We’re going to step up,” said Cindy Sue Soto, a senior pre-med major and president of the Nicholls Delta Zeta chapter. “We’re going to support the student government in whatever they’re going to do. We’re going to come out and be seen and be heard.”
Students at Nicholls have also initiated a grassroots campaign with the formation of a group called Stand Up – announced at the first town hall meeting. Additional information is available at the group’s website, www.standup4la.org.
To learn more about Nicholls, go to www.nicholls.edu.