A bill that would allow colleges and universities to impose a host of new fees on students, including one that could cost up to $2,500 per semester for LSU’s digital media students, easily advanced in the Louisiana House on Wednesday on an 80-18 vote.
Most of the discussion on the House floor centered on a provision within House Bill 671 that would allow public institutions around the state to charge a fee of up to $48 to help schools keep up with building maintenance.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, argued that an increasing number of college and university buildings around the state are falling into disrepair and are in need of attention.
A number of legislators, including state Reps. Joe Harrison, R-Napleonville, and Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, spoke in support of the HB671.
Harrison said schools are having trouble building the necessary infrastructure to teach highly technical courses because campus buildings are so antiquated.
Leger, said he’s heard from students who have told him they are willing to pay additional fees if they get tangible resources and upgrades in return.
State Reps. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, and Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro, spoke out against HB671, saying that parents and students are now carrying most of the burden for funding Louisiana’s colleges and universities.
“Students have seen almost an 80 percent increase in tuition,” over the last five years, Barrow said noting that national studies show that student loan debt ranks second only to mortgage debt.
Ortego questioned why schools haven’t done a better job budgeting for continuing maintenance.
“The longer you go without fixing buildings, the more it’s going to cost,” he said. “I understand the need for it, but I wish we’d budget better instead of asking our students to pay for it.”
Lost in Wednesday’s discussion was the digital media program fee of up to $2,500 per semester for LSU graduate students and a $300 annual dental supply fee for students in LSU’s doctor of dental surgery, dental hygiene and dental laboratory programs.
HB671 also gives LSU the authority to charge a $275 prosthetic device fee for second-year doctor of dental surgery students.
The bill gives institutions the leeway to establish criteria to waive the fees for select students who demonstrate financial hardships.
The measure now heads to the state Senate for consideration.