Public colleges in Louisiana received authorization Thursday to move forward with tuition increases of up to 10 percent this fall from the Board of Regents.

The Regents gave the green light on tuition hikes allowed through last year’s LA GRAD Act law the same day the Legislature approved new LA GRAD Act 2.0 legislation that gives colleges more autonomy in exchange for increased accountability.

The House approved the House Bill 549 conference report on a 97-0 vote and then the Senate signed off on it by a 32-5 voting margin, sending the LA GRAD Act 2.0 legislation to the governor’s desk.

Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed the legislation, which was sponsored by House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown.

The 2.0 legislation gives colleges more freedoms in purchasing, contracts, construction projects and more in exchange for increased college graduation and retention rates and overall graduates.

State Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, said conference committee made some final clarifications to appease the concerns of smaller colleges that feared they would not fit within the criteria. Those issues were resolved, he said.

Theresa Hay, Regents associate commissioner for strategic initiatives, said all the state colleges score in the highest “green” criteria that allows them to move forward with the tuition authority this fall. The only caveat is that they do not exceed Southern regional averages, Hay said.

Colleges have signed six-year GRAD Act agreements, but they must meet certain goals each year in order to retain the tuition control and the autonomies, according to the legislation. That will begin getting tougher next year.

“It may not be the same story next year,” Hay warned.

“This is very high stakes for our institutions,” she said.

“That’s the starting point, and now we’ll see what happens in the next six years,” said Regent Vic Stelly, of Lake Charles.

There are three levels of autonomies that colleges must qualify for on an annual basis, with each level requiring tougher “aspirations” and goals, Hay said.

The GRAD Act 2.0 legislation, as dubbed by Jindal, was pushed by the Louisiana Flagship Coalition of business leaders supporting LSU. The bills would apply to higher education statewide.

The intent is to help colleges save money at a time of state budget cuts to higher education.

HB549 would not allow for any additional tuition increases, although nearly every college already plans to hike tuition costs by 10 percent this fall.

Some of the main freedoms articulated in HB549 include:

--Allowing colleges to “roll forward” extra revenues each year so they are not forced to spend any reserves at the end of each fiscal year.

--Giving colleges more authority to execute more contracts without additional red tape.

  •   Allowing colleges more procurement freedoms on buying equipment and on bulk supply purchases.

--Letting colleges move forward with self-funded construction projects and renovations without state control.

--Granting colleges the ability to go out on their own on some risk management costs, like worker’s compensation insurance.

Voters will get to decide on a constitutional amendment to make permanent an expiring 4-cent cigarette tax that is attached to a plan to dedicate more tobacco settlement dollars to merit-based TOPS scholarships.

The Louisiana Senate voted 38-0 and then the House approved Senate Bill 53 on a 99-4 vote Thursday on the final day of the legislative session to send the constitutional amendment to voters Oct. 22 in a 16-line ballot measure.

“This piece of legislation is a combination of two good policies,” said House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Tucker. “It’s going to be a landmark piece of legislation.”

Tucker said he expects “overwhelming” voter support because the public supports the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students and because most people do not want to lower the sales taxes on cigarettes.

The House last week tacked the hotly debated cigarette tax onto the TOPS plan, against the wishes of Gov. Bobby Jindal. But Jindal said he considered the TOPS proposal too important to risk sacrificing.