Saturday, May 18, 2024

House Committee Advances Higher Education Tuition Bill

by BPT Staff
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Piper Naudin | LSU Manship School News Service 

BATON ROUGE—The House Education Committee unanimously moved forward with a bill that would allow higher education management boards to raise tuition for high-cost majors and establish mandatory fees for all programs.

The bill, by Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, would limit any increases to no more than 10 % of the previous year’s level. 

“We are the only state in the nation that requires a two-thirds vote of our legislature for tuition approval,” he said. “We are one of only two states, along with Florida, whose legislature has some control over tuition.”

He said that information came from the Southern Regional Education Board. Higher-cost programs include architecture, engineering and nursing.

Hughes said the bill would provide the same authority to higher-education boards in Louisiana as similar boards have in Texas, Alabama and Arkansas, where the boards can set tuition rates.  

“This bill would give our institutions some flexibility to figure out how to best address academic program needs, whether it’s providing specialized labs and equipment or investing in faculty retention,” he said. “The systems and campuses need to have the ability to operate and grow current and future high value programs.”

This authority would apply only to academic programs, faculty, equipment and student success. It would not increase administrative salaries or impact TOPS scholarships.

Louisiana Community & Technical College System President Monty Sullivan testified in support of the bill. 

“This is a tool that we believe we’re gonna need down the line if Louisiana finds itself in a place where we have to take steps as a result of lowered revenue in the state,” he said.

Sullivan and University of Louisiana Lafayette President Joe Savoie stated that they did not have current plans to increase tuition and fees but felt like this safety net was necessary in case the state’s budget decreased. 

Additionally, Sullivan, Savoie, and Hughes emphasized that tuition and fees would only increase for the high-cost programs. 

“Engineering is a more expensive program than English,” Savoie said. “However, students are charged the same. You have added equipment needs, you have higher salaries for your faculty and staff, you have laboratory responsibilities that you have to cover,” Savoie said. “And so those programs really take revenue from the other programs, the less expensive programs. So if the financial situation gets tighter and if we have to make some adjustments, we think doing it on the cost areas is probably the most judicious way to do it.”

Rep. Charles A. Owens, R-Rosepine, voiced support for the bill.

“When things get bad, we take money from hospitals and education,” he said. He hoped that the legislation would allow post-secondary educational institutions to maintain a certain budget over multiple years. 

The state could lose several hundred million dollars in revenue when .45 cents of the state sales tax expires next year, and that could force budget cuts. Funding for higher education and many health programs are not guaranteed under the state constitution or by law, so these areas have typically borne the brunt of state budget cuts.

Although in support of the bill, Rep. Kendricks “Ken” Brass, D-Vacherie, wondered how the tuition waiver process would change under this policy. 

Hughes said that programs like TOPS, Pell Grants and other programs that can cover tuition would not change. 

Brass was concerned that students and families would potentially have to make up the difference between the increased tuition and their tuition waiver. 

Rep. Phillip Tarver, R-Lake Charles, was concerned about what the potential year-to-year 10% increases in tuition would look like in multiple years. Hughes explained that it would depend on the Legislature’s allocation of finances and the number of students attending the institutions. 

However, Hughes maintained that the policy was meant as a safety net should finances tighten up for higher education.

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