A measure that would pave the way for $75 million in college tuition hikes cleared its first hurdle Wednesday when it was endorsed by a Louisiana House committee.
The measure, House Bill 448, cleared the House Education Committee on a 9-to-4 vote with support from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office. HB448 next faces a big test in the full House, where two-thirds approval is required for the plan to move to the state Senate for debate.
The same committee also approved another measure, which would give colleges and universities more flexibility to increase operational fees.
State Rep. Hollis Downs, R-Ruston and sponsor of HB448, conceded that winning two-thirds backing — at least 70 votes in the 105-member House — “is a high hill to step over.”
The only tuition bill to clear the House thus far only applies to community and technical colleges.
HB448 would clear the way for higher tuition by allowing colleges to charge a student an additional per credit amount for credit hours in excess of 12 credit hours, which typically is four classes per semester. Full-time students often take 15 credit hours, or five classes. Removing the cap would allow colleges and universities to charge many full-time students for one more class.
The change would apply to the LSU, Southern University and the University of Louisiana systems and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.
This fall, tuition and fees at LSU could be set over $6,500, a 50 percent increase since 2005.
The new charge would be covered for those on a TOPS scholarship — Taylor Opportunity Program for Students.
Backers told the committee that the higher tuition is needed because state aid for colleges and universities has been cut by about $315 million in more than two years.
“There is a hole there,” state Higher Education Commissioner Jim Purcell said.
“The question is, ‘How do we fill that hole?’ ” said Purcell, who testified for the bill.
State Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, said the bill means that a student who paid for 15 credit hours earlier this year could face a 25-percent tuition hike this fall, aside from any other tuition increases.
Stafford Palmieri, education policy adviser for Jindal, and others said Louisiana is near the bottom in tuition charged among 16 states in the South.
“Twenty-five percent of a small number is a small number,” Palmieri said of the proposed increase.
“There are a lot of people struggling out there,” he said.
State Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, complained that students and families are being hit with a wide range of new college charges. “We piecemeal so much of what we do instead of having a plan,” Carter said.
Downs said Louisiana, like many other states, is in the midst of “systemic change,” where families pay more for college tuition and the state pays less.
The committee approved an amendment that would set aside at least 10 percent of money raised by the higher tuition — about $7.5 million — to fund needs-based scholarships.
The panel also endorsed an amendment that would allow colleges to charge students a fee for dropping classes.
The same committee voted 8-to-6 for a bill that would give colleges more leeway to increase “operational fees” as tuition costs grow.
The proposal, House Bill 97, will help colleges and universities offset rising costs amid declining state aid, said state Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe and sponsor of the bill.
Backers said the measure, which is also backed by Jindal, would raise about $7 million per year.
The plan next faces action on the House floor and, like Downs’ bill, requires a two-thirds majority for passage.
State Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, criticized the measure. “I just can’t support, at this time, another increase,” Schroder said.
Voting YES on House Bill 448 (9): State Reps. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe; Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport; Billy Chandler, R-Dry Prong; Bubba Chaney, R-Rayville; Hollis Downs, R-Ruston; Rickey Hardy, D-Lafayette; Clif Richardson, R-Central; Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa and Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge.
VOTING NO ON HB448 (4): State Reps. Elton Aubert, D-Vacherie; Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge; John Bel Edwards, D-Amite and John Schroder, R-Covington.
VOTING YES ON HOUSE BILL 97 (8): State Reps. James Armes, D-Leesville; Elton Aubert, D-Vacherie; Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport; Bubba Chaney, R-Rayville; Hollis Downs, R-Ruston; Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe; Clif Richardson, R-Central and Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa.
VOTING NO ON HB97 (6): Reps. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge; Billy Chandler, R-Dry Prong; John Bel Edwards, D-Amite; Rickey Hardy, D-Lafayette; John Schroder, R-Covington and Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport.