With a two-thirds vote of the Legislature required to raise college tuition, the politics of higher education can get very complicated.
It’s especially complicated when legislators are struggling with holes in the state budget, and they face re-election in the fall.
All those factors, though, should be balanced with the reality that Louisiana has cut its aid to colleges from the state’s general fund during Gov. Bobby Jindal’s term in office. The colleges have to charge more for their services.
Several bills seek to address the problems created by the lagging economy and the decision of Jindal and legislators to cut taxes rather than sustain the state’s long-term commitment to higher education funding.
One bill would standardize tuition at community colleges. Another would allow colleges to charge full-time students for up to 15 hours, one more three-hour class than allowed now.
The latter might be the most politically difficult of the bills. House Bill 448 by state Rep. Hollis Downs, R-Ruston, requires 70 votes in the 105-member House, and 26 votes in the 39-member Senate.
Several lawmakers were not slow to register their concerns about a full-time student facing a 25 percent increase in tuition.
“There are a lot of people struggling out there,” said state Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite.
He’s right, but cuts of about 20 percent in direct state aid to colleges must be made up somewhere.
College tuition in Louisiana has been lower than that charged in many other states. That situation could not have lasted indefinitely, even if more money were available in direct state aid to colleges.
That’s because the campuses constantly are in a battle for top professors and paying for the laboratories and other resources vital to higher education.
What is that diploma worth? A lot, if the quality of the institution granting it is maintained.
That’s why colleges should have more flexibility to adjust tuition to their markets, in business-school parlance.