Legislation that would give colleges more freedom to save money on bulk purchasing, contracts and other projects was approved overwhelmingly on a 37-1 vote Monday in the state Senate.
The “LA GRAD Act 2.0” legislation, as dubbed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, was pushed by the Louisiana Flagship Coalition of business leaders supporting LSU. The bills would apply to higher education statewide.
House Bill 549 by House Speaker Jim Tucker is meant to beef up last year’s LA GRAD Act legislation that gave college more authority to increase tuition in exchange for meeting certain performance goals like improved graduation rates.
GRAD Act 2.0 would make changes with the intent of helping 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.
“This will allow our universities to prosper and grow — something they haven’t been allowed to do in a long time,” said state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie.
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, Tucker said.
--Giving colleges more authority to execute more contracts without additional red tape.
--Allowing college 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.
There are three levels of autonomies that colleges must qualify for an annual basis. The accountability measures rely mostly on graduation rates, student retention rates and the amount of overall college graduates each year.
“I think it put in some autonomies that really inspire the campuses to perform,” said Jim Purcell, the state commissioner for higher education.
Purcell said colleges ideally should try to develop 15 percent fund balances from carry-forward dollars for use in emergency and other situations.
HB549 needs only House concurrence on amendments before heading to Jindal’s desk for his signature.