Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday called on Louisiana’s colleges and universities to resist raising tuition for the upcoming school year.
Edwards argued that amid the tumult of one of the state’s greatest budget shortfalls in state history, higher education institutions emerged virtually unscathed and should in turn respond by giving students a break on tuition hikes. Many of those students, he noted, will also being paying more out of pocket because TOPS received a 30 percent cut in the Legislative session.
“I would like to see zero or minimal increases in tuition this year,” Edwards told a room of higher education officials at the Board of Regents meeting on Wednesday. “We cannot continue to put more and more burden on students and families which is what has happened with annual double digit increases every year.”
His call to higher education officials awkwardly falls during the final year of the Louisiana GRAD Act agreement. In Louisiana, public universities and colleges typically need a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to increase tuition. But in 2010, the Legislature passed the Louisiana Granting Resources and Autonomy for Resources for Diplomas Act, which gave schools the ability to raise tuition up to 10 percent per year if they meet student achievement benchmarks like improving graduation rates.
This November, voters will decide on a measure that could give the schools total tuition autonomy without a sunset. But if voters reject the measure, ensuring the Legislature retains control, this year could be the last time the schools are able to easily increase tuition revenue without an uphill political battle.
The Board of Regents announced that every public college and university in the state met the GRAD Act benchmarks required to raise tuition, except for four schools: Baton Rouge Community College, Southern University at Baton Rouge, Southern University at Shreveport and Southern University Law Center.
Every other school has the authority to raise tuition 10 percent. Many schools like LSU have gotten the tuition authority every year since 2010. The first year, before the performance benchmarks were established, every school was able to increase tuition 5 percent. After that, schools which met the student achievement requirements were allowed to increase them up to 10 percent.
Schools have used the GRAD act to drastically increase tuition rates, during a time they saw the state slash their state funding. During the course of the GRAD Act, LSU nearly doubled its tuition for students, while it’s state aid was cut by about than half.
Edwards said despite what started as a $2 billion budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1, higher education institutions were cut a total of less than 1 percent.
TOPS, however, was cut 30 percent - the first time the program has ever not been fully funded. TOPS is a state scholarship program that gives in-state students free tuition if they meet mid-level academic benchmarks.
LSU President F. King Alexander said he expects their campuses could see increases, however, he said they’d be far from the double-digit increases of previous years — and likely wouldn’t exceed 5 percent.
He noted that while the LSU was largely spared in the most recent budget passed last week, the school already endured nine straight years of funding cuts they are still trying to recover from, including $11 million for the most recent school year.
And then there’s other factors to be considered, for example, the governor already is warning there could be a mid-year cut and asked institutions on Wednesday to withhold 5 percent of their funding just incase there’s a shortfall later in the year. LSU is also seeing increasing enrollment and greater fixed costs, including higher pension payments.
There’s also the unknown impact of cutting TOPS by 30 percent, which could have an unpredictable impact on student enrollment, which would impact university revenue.
“If we’re able to be held whole without the threat of a pending mid-year cut, we’ll only go up as little as we possibly can in this scenario,” Alexander said. “But we know it won’t be a double digit increase.”
Alexander said the decision would be made within the next two weeks, so students could prepare.
A 5 percent increase in tuition for a full time LSU student could be between $750 to $800 more per year. Last week, the LSU Board of Supervisors approved fee increases for the campuses which will cost LSU’s Baton Rouge students an extra $350 per year.
The University of Louisiana System, which includes the University of New Orleans, Southeastern Louisiana University and the University of Louisiana - Lafayette, saw every school meet the GRAD Act requirements. The UL-System is losing about $5.6 million in funding for next year compared to this year, more than any other college system.
Cami Geisman, spokeswoman for the UL System, said officials haven’t yet determined whether tuition changes will be made.
The Southern University System did not respond for a request for comment. Only the Southern University in New Orleans has authority to increase tuition.
And last week, the Louisiana Community and Technical College announced it would not raise tuition at any school because it wants to maintain affordability for students. The system did, however, increase fees.