Jindal Plan Allows For Tuition Increases

BATON ROUGE — Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed a new college tuition policy on Tuesday that would allow many schools to increase costs 10 percent per year if they agree to meet certain performance standards. The proposed LA GRAD Act legislation would let colleges raise tuition by 10 percent per year until they meet the average costs of their regional peers. Then schools could continue to increase costs by 5 percent per year if they keep meeting graduation rate goals and other measures. LSU’s flagship campus is the only exception with a tuition comparison to national flagship schools — and a higher tuition ceiling — and not just Southern peers. “With that flexibility will come accountability,” Jindal said. “The Louisiana GRAD Act is about giving our schools more flexibility, more autonomy in return for better performance, especially when it comes to better retention and graduation rates so that more of our students are graduating with the skills they need to get high-paying jobs right here in Louisiana.” The state has some of the nation’s lowest tuition costs and it is the only state that requires two-thirds legislative approval in order to increase tuition. The proposed legislation also would need two-thirds legislative support. The session begins March 29. Prior to $250 million in budget cuts to colleges the past 14 months, Jindal emphasized though that Louisiana ranked in the top 10 nationally for per capita tax-dollar spending on higher education. The LA GRAD Act: Grant Resources and Autonomy for Diplomas would be voluntary. The primary performance requirement would mean increasing university admissions standards to help graduation rates and start more students in cheaper community colleges. Other requirements include continuing to eliminate low-completer academic programs, offering more need-based financial aid and developing better transfer student partnerships between universities and community colleges. In order to reach peer averages, LSU would need to increase its tuition and fees more than 50 percent — from about $5,300 annually now to more than $8,300 — and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette could go up more than 50 percent as well — from $3,800 to about $6,000. Louisiana Technical College campuses would essentially need to double their costs to meet peer levels. LSU Chancellor Michael Martin said giving LSU the flagship standard with the higher tuition ceiling likely means he will not propose the so-called $1,000 per year “flagship fee” that he had previously discussed. “We’ve got a lot of heavy lifting to do on our end, but we certainly appreciate it,” Martin said of the GRAD Act. Martin said the tuition increases should not to be too burdensome because about 90 percent of LSU freshman begin school with merit-based TOPS — Taylor Opportunity Program for Students — scholarships that cover tuition costs. Additional need-based aid is available, he said. Jindal said TOPS will remain fully funded and uncapped. However, Jindal did say he is open to hearing ideas about toughening the academic standards to qualify for TOPS. Southern University System interim President Kassie Freeman said the 10 percent policy is a good compromise. “We need to make sure we’re not pricing out our students,” Freeman said, adding that Southern’s campuses could opt for tuition hikes of less than 10 percent. The governor said House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, who was not present Tuesday, will sponsor the GRAD Act legislation. Except for the 10 percent cap, the proposal largely mirrors recommendations finalized earlier this month by the Louisiana Postsecondary Education Review Commission. The Jindal administration was heavily involved in drafting recommendation with some commission members. “One of the reasons we capped it at 10 percent is we thought that was the right balance so students can continue to afford attending college and universities,” Jindal said. Colleges currently have legislative authorization for tuition hikes of up to 5 percent for the next two years. In order to maintain the proposed tuition authority based on the GRAD Act, LSU would have to work toward a 75 percent six-year graduation rate — LSU is currently at about 60 percent — while other schools would need to meet at least 50 percent graduation rates. Regional research universities like the UL-Lafayette, Louisiana Tech University and the University of New Orleans would have 60 percent targets.