Colleges statewide can now move forward with tuition increases of up to 10 percent this fall after receiving legislative approval Wednesday.
The move represents an about-face from the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget that rejected half of the overall tuition increases last month when the state senators deadlocked on the issue.
On Wednesday, several more senators on the panel were present and the extra tuition hike of up to 5 percent won approval on an 8-5 vote. House members easily backed the increase on a 13-4 vote.
Because the tuition money was built into Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed budget, the legislative rejection would have amounted to a $37.4 million budget cut for colleges.
Jim Purcell, the state commissioner for higher education, said the tuition approval will allow most colleges to avoid major reductions and cuts.
“We wouldn’t be here … unless we really felt we need these funds and revenues,” said Purcell, who noted Louisiana has some of the lowest tuition levels in the Southern region.
“We’ll continue to monitor tuition levels and make sure it does not have an adverse impact,” he said.
The 10 percent tuition increase, for instance, allows LSU to raise its tuition and fees from $5,764 to nearly $6,350 this fall.
If it was only 5 percent, LSU would not be able to go beyond $6,052.
“It means we can, hopefully, continue to offer the quality education we’ve promised,” LSU Chancellor Michael Martin said about the extra tuition revenues. “But we still aren’t out of the woods by any means.”
The tuition increase approved Wednesday is the final year of tuition increases of up to 5 percent that were first approved by the Legislature in 2008. Colleges have banked on the funds each year, but the tuition hikes still required extra joint legislative consent each year. Until last month, that approval had been easy to acquire.
The other half of the overall 10 percent tuition increases comes from last year’s LA GRAD Act, which allows colleges to increase tuition in exchange for pledges to achieve certain goals, such as increased graduation rates.
State Sen. Lydia Jackson, D-Shreveport, said she understands the tuition levels in Louisiana are relatively low. But she complained that Jindal is backing increased tuition costs on students, while he vetoed a 4-cent sales tax renewal on cigarettes.
“I can’t reconcile that in my mind,” Jackson said.
State Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette, was quick to call out the college presidents for their high salaries while tuition goes up.
University of Louisiana System President Randy Moffett said he has given up about $35,000 through furlough days and cuts on his housing and vehicle allowances.
LSU System President John Lombardi, who is the highest-paid college employee in the state with a $600,000 pay package, said he has no plans to cut his pay unless budget cuts force everyone to do so.
Competitive salaries are needed to bring in the best people to offer the best education, Lombardi said.
HOUSE AND SENATE MEMBERS VOTING FOR THE TUITION INCREASE: State Reps. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro; James Armes, D-Leesville; Bubba Chaney, R-Rayville; Page Cortez, R-Lafayette; Noble Ellington, R-Winnsboro; Mickey Guillory, D-Eunice; Rickey Hardy, D-Lafayette; Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville; Chris Hazel, R-Pineville; Eddie Lambert, R-Prairieville; Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans; Bodi White, R-Central; Patrick Williams, D-Shreveport; and Sens. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette; Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa; Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan; Sherri Cheek, R-Keithville; Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville; Gerald Long, R-Winnfield; Francis Thompson, D-Delhi; and Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe.
VOTING AGAINST TUITION INCREASES: State Reps. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette; Scott Simon, R-Abita Springs; Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge; Charmaine Stiaes, D-New Orleans; and Sens. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge; Lydia Jackson, D-Shreveport; Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte; Ed Murray, D-New Orleans; and Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans.