Higher ed system fears funding cuts as major tech company looks for skilled workers

(WVUE) - The operating budget Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law contains nearly $100-million in budget cuts for the state's higher education system. This as a major tech company new to the city is looking to colleges and universities to provide graduates with skills it needs.

In a towering building on Poydras Street with a new name, DXC has set up shop inside and will create a "digital transformation center" that holds a lot of promise for the economy.

"They're planning on hiring 350 people right over here on Poydras Street in their first year…Average salaries about $63,000, there's a range of jobs," said Michael Hecht, President and CEO of GNO, Inc., which works to bring economic development to the area.

Ultimately, DXC plans to bring 2,000 jobs to the city and some of the state's institutions of higher education are part of the success equation.

"The world of IT changes so rapidly we need people trained in stem, science and technology," said Stephen Hilton, Exec. V.P. of DXC., during an announcement outside the Superdome last fall.

To that end, the state agreed to provide $25 million for higher education institutions like LSU in Baton Rouge and the University of New Orleans to enhance programs in STEM studies and turn out more graduates in computer science, engineering and math to ensure a local workforce for DCX Technology.

Hecht called that approach a win-win.

"What we've seen from other companies like GE Digital is that working with higher ed they can set up a program at the institution that it custom-tailored, then what happens is the university has a much more market relevant curriculum, the business is getting custom-trained workers," said Hecht.

But the state's higher education system could face $90 million in budget cuts soon if the approaching special session, slated to begin June 18, does not result in new revenues to plug the nearly $700-million funding shortfall for the new fiscal year.

Earlier this week, another special session ended without state lawmakers extending a portion of an expiring sales tax, as proposed by some lawmakers.

"When we're talking about successful diversification and growth of our economy, jobs for our kids and for the future it makes no sense to be debating what amounts to 17 cents out of a hundred dollars," said Hecht.

UNO is concerned about what will happen.

The school's president, John Nicklow, issued a statement to FOX 8 News Friday afternoon:

"We have concerns about how these proposed cuts will diminish all of our state's colleges and universities and their ability to cultivate talent and stimulate economic development. Our graduates are employed in every sector of the regional economy. There must be a recognition from our legislators that our universities are the cornerstone for a more prosperous Louisiana with an improved quality of life for all of its residents. Funding higher education and TOPS are essential priorities."

And a spokesman for LSU agreed there is a lot of uncertainty, but added that the school should have a clearer picture after the special session later this month.

Meanwhile, if there are not enough people locally to meet DXC's needs, the company would have to import employees.
"If we're not able to provide enough quantity and quality of Louisianians for companies like DXC they're going to bring them in from outside markets, and of course, the company is still going to grow but it's really going to be a lost opportunity for New Orleans and all of Louisianians," said Hecht.

A DXC spokesman refused to comment for this report.

And requests for a statement from the governor's administration were unsuccessful.

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