Saturday, July 13, 2024

Louisiana colleges to have more financial independence after two bills become law

by BIZ Magazine

BY: PIPER HUTCHINSON – Louisiana Illuminator

Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry allowed two bills to become law that will give Louisiana’s colleges and universities more control over tuition, fees and maintenance projects.

House Bill 862 by Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, was allowed to pass into law without the governor’s signature. It gives higher education institutions the long-sought power to change tuition costs without legislative approval by allowing them to set differential tuition for any graduate, professional or high-cost undergraduate programs. The new law also gives university system boards complete control over mandatory fees.

Differential tuition is an 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.

The state’s four higher education governing boards would be permitted to decrease tuition and fees for any program but only increase tuition for graduate programs and high-cost undergraduate programs.

The new law takes effect Aug. 1, but it will likely take boards some time to determine which programs require a tuition adjustment. The Louisiana Community and Technical College System has initiated a study on the topic.

Louisiana currently requires a two-thirds of the Legislature to sign off on any tuition changes at its public colleges and universities. Most other states leave this decision up to higher education management boards.

Hughes’ law does not allow university systems to raise fees and differential tuition more than 10% every two years. It will not have an impact on the cost of TOPS, which provides state-funded tuition aid to many Louisiana students, as the amount of the award is no longer directly tied to the cost of tuition.

Landry also signed House Bill 940 by Rep. Chris Turner, R-Ruston, which would provide money for campus maintenance work without going through the annual state construction budget.

Presently, each university system gets a few million dollars each year to address their deferred maintenance projects, far from enough to keep up with new projects added to the list each year. In total, approximately $2 billion worth of repairs are needed at public colleges and universities in the state.

Turner said higher education leaders have asked instead for a set amount of money annually, which they could then decide how to spend themselves. The law would allow universities to address their backlogs more quickly and with fewer hurdles.

The nearly $2 billion deferred maintenance backlog presents a considerable problem on university campuses. Poor infrastructure manifests in Americans with Disabilities Act compliance issues, leaky libraries, disruptions in laboratories and myriad problems that impact student life, working conditions and faculty research.

The new law sets up a 10-year program through which the Legislature could appropriate up to $2 billion dollars, approximately equal to deferred maintenance costs for all four state higher education systems, excluding those at university hospitals that could be paid for with federal dollars.

Of that amount, the Southern University System would be allocated $153 million, the Louisiana Community and Technical College System would get $253 million, the University of Louisiana System would receive $523 million, and $1.07 billion would be set aside for the LSU System.

Turner’s law took effect a week ago. Lawmakers deposited an initial $75 million to jumpstart the program. More funding will likely be added next year.

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