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A Call to Action from President Hulbert

TO: Faculty, Staff and Students

FR: Stephen T. Hulbert, President

A Message from the President

Last week, senior members of my administration and I met with a group of ten regional legislators. For some months, I have wanted to request that session; but on each occasion I have held back, always being concerned with the implications of the proverbial “crying fire.” However, I have now reached the point that should we not speak up in support of Nicholls, the evolving financial conditions facing this university are such that it will not be possible to avoid irrevocable damage to the institution and to the people and region it serves.

As I opened that meeting, I said we were not looking for special treatment for Nicholls; but upon reflection, I realize that is exactly what we had hoped for from our regional delegation, since our regional delegation clearly has the most at stake. The University was not asking for the state to step in to save us even though Nicholls has not been treated on an equal basis with other four-year universities to date. What we are seeking is a partnership that empowers Nicholls to remain strong enough through the year or two ahead to enable the university to move forward in service to the region. Without that partnership, Nicholls will become a very different and substantially smaller four-year institution or, perhaps, the university will cease to exist at all. As I said to our legislators, the potential of that outcome should be a source of very real concern for all of us!

We reminded the legislators that the government leadership in Baton Rouge is not willing to make an overt decision regarding the life or death of our higher education institutions. Rather, all fourteen four-year institutions and every one of the state’s two-year colleges are being left on their own to handle cuts and to deal with the resulting damage to their academic communities and service regions. Whether those legislators agree or not, it is clear to us that the largest four-year institutions can and will survive even larger percentage cuts over the year ahead. It will be the smaller two- and four-year institutions that will be truly devastated.

Perhaps that is the problem in itself. Baton Rouge and state level higher education governance have historically treated every four-year institution as if each of them is exactly alike. That is, each institution has been cut based on its percentage share of state appropriation.

In reality, the advantages of size, complexity of funding, and location have allowed larger institutions to better manage these cuts while the small institutions have become even more challenged. In Nicholls’ current situation, state funding per full time equivalent student is already about $1275 less per student than the average for all four-year, public, statewide institutions. The irony is that, given the efficiency of Nicholls, the amount of funds needed to keep it viable are small in the grand scheme of budgets; yet, the percentage share of budget cuts is substantial.

Paul Rainwater, the Commissioner of Administration, has been quoted as saying that universities can raise tuition to deal with funding problems. Such a statement does not recognize the variations among institutions. To eliminate the $7.4 million federal stimulus figure alone for 2011-2012 here at Nicholls would require an unrealistic $605 or 40% (undergraduate tuition) increase. Some alternative approach involving middle ground must be considered.

In sounding the alarm to our legislators, we are asking for support and attention to empower Nicholls to help itself. One of our suggested actions involves letting the universities charge for each credit hour students take above twelve hours while also implementing differential tuition rates for high cost academic programs. This would raise three to five million dollars alone. We also asked for a minimum funding formula which would put the funding of smaller institutions in line with larger institutions.

Finally, we made the strongest appeal possible for our regional legislators to exercise proactive leadership in the Louisiana Legislature to support this excellent regional comprehensive university. Nicholls has been one of the economic engines driving the area economy since it began graduating students in 1950. What is so special about Nicholls is that it has always been focused on its mission of providing opportunities in higher education to the region it serves. When the leadership of Louisiana directed the university to be “open admissions,” Nicholls embraced that requirement and graduated those students who worked hard to earn their degrees. Many of these young men and women went on to reach the pinnacles of their professions, whether in medicine or law, in accounting or the classroom, in entrepreneurship or in theater and television, or in government and public service. The graduates of this university now staff the hospitals, clinics, businesses, schools, and government offices of the Third Congressional District. Today, Nicholls is a selective admissions university dedicated to elevating our graduation rates and those institutional markers that will distinguish us in the future. Make no mistake about it: Nicholls is vital to this region, and allowing it to perish is not acceptable.

Since the legislative briefing, we have heard and seen comments and actions by our legislators clearly indicating that they recognize the very real challenges facing this regional university. Additionally, we have begun a campaign to communicate the level of risk facing the university to regional leadership at all levels. As that communication effort unfolds, we will share information campus-wide for use as faculty, staff, and students talk with members of the broader community. The entire university family will be encouraged to speak out in support of Nicholls.

Please understand that Nicholls State University, Fletcher Technical Community College, and South Central Louisiana are not facing these financial challenges alone. This is a state-wide and even a national crisis that is changing the very nature of higher education everywhere across America. What we are looking for is communication with state government that supports funding for higher education to allow Louisiana’s colleges and universities to remain an invaluable resource to the future of this state. We must all engage to save our university!

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