Jindal Proposes College Tuition Freedom As Higher Ed Funding Option

In what is sure to be a controversial move, Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed this morning that state legislators allow Louisiana universities and community colleges more freedom in setting tuition and fee increases in exchange for higher demands on admissions and graduation rates. The proposal, named the Louisiana GRAD (Granting Resources and Autonomy for Diplomas) Act, would seek to restructure college education in the state so as to move more marginal students to community colleges and technical schools while minimizing an unattractive 62 percent dropout rate in the state’s colleges.

There are strings attached to the proposal. Four-year schools would have to increase admission standards and improve graduation rates in order to maintain the freedom to raise tuition, while community and technical colleges would have to show improvement in getting students into jobs.

Jindal said sustainability and performance are crucial motivators behind the tuition freedom…

“I believe strongly that our higher education system plays a vital role in our state’s current and future economic outlook. That is why we proposed no cuts to higher education campuses in the FY 11 budget and we are working closely with intuitions to make the reforms they need to become more sustainable, while also increasing their performance. The goal we all share is for every Louisiana citizen to be able to get a great education and pursue their dreams right here at home.

“For that to happen, we need our higher education institutions to keep students progressing toward graduation and help them identify studies that will shape their future careers. A higher education system that has more autonomy and produces more results for our students will mark the Louisiana Way forward in post-secondary education.”

But tuition and fees would be freed from legislative action to an extent in return. Jindal’s proposal would allow up to 10 percent yearly increases until the schools in question hit the average of similar schools across the country. Upon reaching the average, the increases could be no more than either five percent or whatever cost would represent the national average.

The proposal will be debated in the legislative session which begins March 29. Under current law, tuition increases require a 2/3 vote in both houses of the state legislature; Louisiana is the only state in America with such a restriction.

A restructuring of higher education in Louisiana is a priority for the Governor in this year’s legislative session. In his release today announcing the proposal, he offered the following findings…

  • State appropriations for higher education doubled between the 1999 and 2009 fiscal years – the third greatest increase among states for that time period
  • SREB ( reports Louisiana’s six-year graduation rate for four-year universities is 38 percent compared to the 53 percent SREB state average – which ranks Louisiana as having the second worst graduation rate in the South
  • In FY 09 Louisiana ranked 8th in the nation for appropriations of state tax funds for operating expenses of Higher Education per $1,000 in personal income; and 7th in the nation in Higher Education appropriations per capita
  • According to SREB, 72 percent of Louisiana students are enrolled in four-year institutions and 28 percent in two-year schools, compared to averages in other SREB states of 55 percent of students in four-year schools and 45 percent in two-year schools.
  • Tuition increases will clearly have to be part of the puzzle as Jindal seeks to restore cuts in higher education funding or avoid further cuts in future years as the state faces more projected budget shortages in 2011 and 2012. Jindal’s current proposed budget of $24 million uses stopgap methods to avoid drastic cuts which under the state’s constitution almost have to be made in higher education, but next year the governor won’t have as many tools at his disposal.

    These circumstances don’t appear to give the governor much choice given his refusal to raise taxes in the midst of a recession, but the issue of higher education funding is such a toxic one in Louisiana right now that Jindal’s detractors are already beside themselves following his announcement this morning. Comments under WWL radio’s account of the proposal today were red-hot with bile:

    trueblue said on February 23, 2010 at 1:14 PM
    This governor will be the death of higher education in Louisiana.

    squirrel26 said on February 23, 2010 at 1:29 PM
    Brilliant! Let’s make the most academically sucessful institutions even HARDER to get into by the middle and lower classes and let only those with the big bucks get the best education while people with less money settle for the cheapo institutions who don’t meet elevated criteria. Truly, a wonderful idea! OMG, Jindal, this is why so many people who voted for you won’t even admit it anymore. Would you please pull your head out of your Hanes and re-prioritize a tad?

    progressiveman said on February 23, 2010 at 2:45 PM
    Never thought I’d say this, but NOW Blanco doesn’t seem that bad!

    The WWL commenters aren’t alone in their animus, as the various message boards around the state’s internet sites are replete with screaming about the necessity of maintaining price controls on higher education in the state.

    Hayride readers are encouraged to voice their opinions below.

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