It's Not Just The Students Who Are Broke: LSU Draws Up Bankruptcy Plan

We’ve spent quite a bit of time documenting the student loan bubble which has now ballooned to $1.3 trillion and has recently led The White House to reexamine how student debt is handled in bankruptcy. Further, we’ve taken an in-depth look at delinquency rates in an effor to determine just how dire the situation has become. As it turns out, nearly one in three students in repayment is 30 days or more past due and recent data out of the St. Louis Fed indicates that far more delinquent borrowers are becoming “seriously” delinquent (i.e. never going to pay) now than in the past. Meanwhile, Moody’s recently warned on some $3 billion in student loan-backed ABS noting that increased use of IBR combined with deferment and forbearance make it increasingly likely that some paper will not be fully paid down at maturity. 

Now, it appears that it’s not just students that are in dire financial straits, but schools as well because as Bloomberg reports, Louisiana State University is now drawing up bankruptcy plans in the wake of funding cuts from the state:

Louisiana State University will draw up a financial exigency plan, equivalent to college bankruptcy, as budget cuts proposed by Governor Bobby Jindal threaten to cripple the higher-education system.

 

Exigency, declared when schools face insolvency, would allow the state’s flagship institution to restructure and fire tenured faculty.

 

“We know the worst-case scenario, we know the timeframe, and we know what’s at stake,” President F. King Alexander said in a statement. He said he wants legislators to “mitigate the devastation these budget cuts promise.”

 

State cuts to higher education have sent tuition soaring across the U.S., adding to the more than $1.2 trillion in student-loan debt. While public subsidies covered almost three-quarters of operating costs in the 1980s, the share is now closer to half and falling every year, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

 

Louisiana faces a $1.6 billion budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year, a result of both plunging oil-tax revenue and the state’s failure to enact adequate tax increases or spending cuts after the economic downturn in 2009…

 

The latest plans would mean an 82 percent cut to the state’s public colleges and universities. Per-student funding would plummet from $3,500 to $660, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, causing concern at Baton Rouge-based LSU. The school may be running out of time to find a solution, as the state’s legislative session ends June 11.

According to Alexander, those last figures are indeed as bad as they sound. “States around the country spend more than that on their community colleges,” he told the New Orleans Times-Picayun. The President went on to note that if the university opts for financial exigency it will “never get any more faculty.”

The school recently cut its planned new hire count by more than 50% from 125 to just 60 and says that in the event the worst case budget cut scenario plays out, it will have to cut 2,500 courses, an eventuality which the school says is simply not tenable. 

Of course what all of this means is that tuition will rise, burying students under still more loans, a third of which will be delinquent once they go into repayment. Here’s NBC:

But without a rescue from lawmakers, Alexander said programs could be dropped or entire departments shuttered under a worst-case scenario. "Specifically, we don't know which programs or departments we're talking about [but] it would require us to utilize every tool possible," he said.

 

Even if the worst-case scenario doesn't come to pass, it's possible students could find themselves paying more, through increases in tuition and fees or decreases in the state's TOPS scholarship program. Lawmakers have historically been reluctant to raise tuition -- currently $8,758 for tuition and fees for in-state students at LSU -- but there is discussion about giving schools themselves more freedom to do so…

 

"We've gone from being very state funded-intensive to being tuition-dependent, and we've got 40 percent of our students that are Pell [grant] eligible," said Sandra Woodley, president of the University of Louisiana system, which consists of nine universities throughout the state. Since 2009, tuition and fees have climbed by 61 percent while state funding has dropped by 55 percent, a drop of $90 million.

 

"We've already shifted to mostly being funded by tuition revenue in a state that has a relatively low income population," Woodley said. Further cuts would just hurt the most vulnerable.

Meanwhile, Moody's has cut its outlook on the university from stable to positive (apparently being bankrupt counts as "stable") citing "limited prospects for sustained revenue growth due to potential reductions in state operating funding, tight state control of tuition pricing, and pricing sensitivity limiting out-of-state enrollment revenue growth." LSU then pulled a $114 million bond offering which would have financed the construction of a new residential hall, family housing and a student health center.

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So in the end, the decline in oil and gas prices which has been partially driven by QE-fueled deflation has helped to blow a hole in the state's budget (taxes on oil extraction account for some 15% of Louisiana's revenue), which is in turn set to trigger budget cuts that will cripple LSU, possibly causing the university to raise tuition which will encourage students to accumulate still more federally-backed debt. Yet another virtuous circle.

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