Monday, May 27, 2024

Louisiana colleges could gain more power over setting tuition

by BIZ Magazine

BY: PIPER HUTCHINSON – Louisiana Illuminator

Representative Jason Hughes speaks against HB 468 Tuesday, July 18, 2023, during the veto override session at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge, La.

Louisiana colleges and universities could soon have more autonomy to set tuition and fees under a proposal advancing in the Legislature.

House Bill 862 by Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, would allow boards for Louisiana’s four university systems to set differential tuition for any graduate, professional or high-cost undergraduate programs. The bill would also give the boards complete control over mandatory fees. It was unanimously advanced from the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee Monday.

Differential tuition is a tiered amount charged on top of base tuition for more expensive academic programs, such as lab-heavy curricula in science or engineering. The Board of Regents, the state oversight board for all higher education, would identify which programs are considered “high-cost.”

Louisiana requires two- thirds of the Legislature to sign off on tuition changes. Most other states leave this decision up to higher education management boards.

Hughes’ bill would not allow university systems to raise fees and differential tuition more than 10% every two years. It also allows schools to lower tuition and fees without limits. The ability to lower tuition has been sought for some high-demand fields such as teaching. The bill would not have an impact on the cost of TOPS, which provides state-funded student aid to many Louisiana students, as the amount of the award is no longer directly tied to the cost of tuition.

His bill also gives systems control over mandatory fees for any program. Tuition and fees at Louisiana universities increased drastically during the 2010s, when the burden to finance higher education was shifted from the state to students

The proposal was amended to remove a portion that would have negated a 2022 law to require universities provide fee waivers to many graduate assistants. That law, passed by Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, is slated to go into effect in August.

Graduate assistants, who do much of the work to keep universities running, are paid as little as $10,000 a year but then have to pay hundreds of dollars in fees every semester. The passage of Fields’ proposal in 2022 was a major victory for these students.

Neither Hughes nor the higher education leaders supporting the bill seemed to be aware this repeal was in his proposal. His bill is supported by University of Louisiana System President Rick Gallot and state Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed, who supported Fields’ bill two years ago.

Reed said she would work with Hughes to find out how the repeal got in the bill and how its removal impacts the bill.

Hughes’ bill will next be discussed by the Senate Finance Committee. Because it has been amended, the changes must be approved in the House of Representatives.

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