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2012 July 23 - 12:00 am

By Meeting Benchmarks, La. Colleges Get OK for Tuition Hike

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Nearly all of Louisiana’s public colleges have met the performance standards they need to be allowed to raise tuition on students by 10 percent in the upcoming school year, the Board of Regents decided.

Two schools weren’t approved by the state’s top higher education board as able to boost student costs: LSU-Eunice and Southern University at Shreveport. The campuses fell short of the standards required under the 2010 law authorizing the tuition increases, called the GRAD Act, officials said.

Southern’s Shreveport campus is appealing the determination, and a final decision is expected by the Regents by early August. LSU-Eunice won’t be able to raise tuition in the fall and also won’t get a slice of state funding under a performance-based formula overseen by the regents.

Other campuses across the state will be able to raise tuition by 10 percent for the 2012-13 school year. The university system boards have to authorize the changes, but that is considered a formality.

“GRAD Act continues to be an important tool for the higher education community to not only evaluate our performance, but also to hold ourselves publicly accountable for the success of the students we serve,” Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell said in a statement.

To get tuition increases, the colleges enter into six-year agreements with the Board of Regents that set measurable performance targets, like increased admission standards, better graduation rates and improved efforts to get students into jobs.

The action came after the legislative auditor’s report earlier said that two-thirds of community and technical colleges didn’t provide reliable data to gain the GRAD Act authority. Larry Tremblay, a deputy commissioner with the Regents office, said the agency got the necessary data needed to determine if campuses met their performance standards.

Schools were scored on up to 62 measures, but each college worked on its own improvement plan and was measured on whether it reached its own standards for student success.

Several months ago, leaders of LSU-Eunice asked the Regents board to revise its performance benchmarks, saying they had made mistakes in setting goals, but they were denied.

The Eunice campus, which is a two-year school, didn’t meet its goals for student retention and graduation rates, according to the Regents reviewers.

“We will be working with those who need to make additional improvements to get them back on track,” Purcell said.

Tremblay said colleges are worried that another round of budget cuts in the upcoming fiscal year could make it tougher for them to continue to reach the performance standards required to raise tuition.

“Institutions that have eliminated services that directly impact student progression will find it more and more difficult to meet their GRAD Act targets,” Board of Regents Chairman Bob Levy agreed.

The Jindal administration and lawmakers have stripped $427 million in state funding from higher education since 2008, as state tax revenue has fallen below expectations and budget shortfalls have repeatedly appeared. That includes $66 million in cuts for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Tuition increases on students have offset some, but not all, of the gap.

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