Shared from the 11/18/2016 American Press eEdition



Amajority of Louisiana college students and their families aren’t interested in letting their universities set tuition rates, but their decision comes at a critical time for higher education. Voters by a 57 percent margin rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment Nov. 8 that would have given the four management boards that authority instead of the Legislature.

Lawmakers currently have to approve tuition increases by a two-thirds vote. Louisiana and Florida are the only two states where legislatures have that authority. However, Florida only requires a simple majority vote.

The Advocate quoted an LSU junior who opposed the amendment. He said he was concerned the Legislature might abdicate its obligation to fund higher education if it lost control.

“Passing this constitutional amendment would give our elected officials a cop-out for higher education funding,” the student said in a LSU newspaper opinion piece. “Why increase or stabilize revenue for higher education when schools can just let students pick up the tab?”

Unfortunately, the Legislature over the last nine years has cut higher education state funding by more than 55 percent. It did pass the GRAD Act in 2010 that allowed universities to raise tuition by 10 percent a year if the schools met graduate rate and other requirements, but the act expired this year.

Joe Rallo, higher education commissioner, said the current need to close a $315 million state budget deficit from the previous fiscal year doesn’t bode well for additional funding. The current year may see another deficit.

Rallo said failure of the amendment means institutions will be looking for new legislation to replace the GRAD Act. Compounding problems for universities is the Legislature’s failure to fully fund the TOPS scholarship program for over 50,000 students.

Students and their parents will have to pick up 58 percent of the spring tuition, which totals over $2,400 at LSU and around $1,500 at other colleges and universities. Officials at the University of New Orleans and Northwestern State University said they would pick up the tab for their students, but they are the exception, not the rule.

UNO managed to pull it off by making sure its students took full advantage of federal Pell grants that go to lowincome residents. However, officials said they aren’t sure they could absorb the extra costs next year.

Northwestern said covering tuition for its 2,400 TOPS students will cost the university $3.5 million. LSU President King Alexander said funding for its 14,000 TOPS students would cost about $27 million.

“That would be a good chunk of our state budget,” Alexander said. “We only get $120 million from the state to run the university.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards is calling on the Legislature to do a better job in 2017 of providing essential funding for TOPS and higher education. It’s a tall order for legislators who have been reluctant in the past to take the bold steps necessary.

We urge lawmakers to start making up for their past failures in this budget area so critical to the state’s future.

See this article in the e-Edition Here