TRACKING TRENDS: Jindal Bill Would Empower Colleges To Raise Tuition
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal has proposed that state lawmakers give up their authority over college tuition and fee increases, letting the schools substantially raise what they charge their students if colleges meet certain performance standards.
Four-year schools would have to increase admission standards and improve graduation rates, while community and technical colleges would have to show improvement in getting students into jobs under the plan that Jindal is recommending to lawmakers.
Remedial classes would disappear at four-year schools, along with most associate degree programs, in an effort to steer students seeking those courses to less expensive community colleges. Online courses would have to be expanded.
In exchange, schools could raise their tuition and fee costs — without a vote of the Legislature — by up to 10 percent a year until they reach the average of similar schools in the South. LSU would be able to raise its tuition until it reaches the average of similar flagship schools nationally.
After they reach the averages, colleges could hike tuition up to five percent a year or up to the increase in an index that tracks higher education costs across states.
The bill “is about giving our schools more flexibility, more autonomy in return for better performance, especially when it comes to better graduation and retention rates so that more of our students are graduating with the skills they need to get high-paying jobs right here in Louisiana,” Jindal said.
The tuition increases allowed over several years could be hefty.
For example, data provided by LSU shows the school’s nearly $5,300 annual cost for in-state students is about $3,000 less than the average for public flagship universities nationally, the standard that would be used to allow tuition boosts.
Currently, campuses need approval from two-thirds of state lawmakers before they can raise tuition and fees, making Louisiana the only state in the nation that requires such a hefty vote. Lawmakers recently did give college governing boards the ability to raise tuition annually up to 5 percent, authority that runs out in two years.
Lawmakers will consider the measure in the legislative session that begins March 29. Republican House Speaker Jim Tucker will sponsor the bill, which is modeled on a recommendation from a state higher education restructuring panel.
Commissioner of Higher Education Sally Clausen backed the proposal, saying it gives colleges more flexibility and expects them to earn it.
“I think it’s probably one of the best opportunities for institutions to not only reach for their aspirational goals, but to be released from some strings that keep them from reaching those goals,” she said.
Asked whether the tuition hikes would keep some students from college, Jindal said Louisiana’s colleges charge less than schools in other states, and he said the state would continue to fully fund the free college tuition program known as TOPS.
TOPS, the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, covers the full cost of tuition for any Louisiana student who meets high school course standards, graduates with a high enough grade point average — typically a C — and reaches certain benchmarks on the college entrance exam. It does not factor in a family’s income or the student’s ability to pay.
The program costs $130 million this year and will grow even larger if colleges are allowed to raise their tuition and fees for students.
Under the proposed legislation, schools interested in getting the tuition authority would enter into six-year performance agreements with the Board of Regents, which governs public higher education in Louisiana.
Regents would evaluate the colleges on their yearly performance to determine if they are making the improvements required to keep raising tuition. If they meet the benchmarks, the colleges also would be given fewer restrictions on computer purchases and travel regulations.
After six years, an independent panel would review each school’s progress and recommend whether a new agreement should be started with the college. The Board of Regents would have to vote on whether to renew the agreement.