Jim Henderson

UL System President Jim Henderson addressed One Acadiana's monthly luncheon about Compete LA in 2019.

In an initiative to encourage adults who didn't complete their degree to return to school, the University of Louisiana System will immediately lower its tuition across its nine schools to a flat-rate price of $275 a credit hour for returning adults.

UL System President Jim Henderson announced Tuesday the tuition change, which is almost a 45% decrease in price, is part of the system's "Compete Louisiana" program, an initiative that was formed last year to boost the percentage of Louisianans with a college degree to 60% by 2030.

A system study found 653,000 adults in Louisiana have taken some college coursework but earned no degree. Tuition price, Henderson said, was the main reason these former students were driven out, and the students might return and finish school if there were an incentive.

Tuition prices for regular students remain unchanged, and the Compete Louisiana students must meet three qualifications to receive the lower tuition rate: they must be a Louisiana resident, have earned some college credit but no degree, and they must be out of school for at least two years.

The schools in the UL System are Grambling State University, Louisiana Tech University, McNeese State University, Nicholls State University, Northwestern State University of Louisiana, Southeastern Louisiana University, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of Louisiana at Monroe and University of New Orleans, and the former students access the program through competela.org.

Henderson said the vast number of people with incomplete degrees developed over time. As the burden of paying for college shifted from state appropriations to students through tuition and fees, "we have substantially priced so many would-be college graduates out of the market."

"Because of price," Henderson said, "they're unable to get that credential that will open so many doors."

According to the system's study, there are 64,563 adults in East Baton Rouge Parish who have earned some college credit but did not complete their degree. There are 68,849 such adults in Jefferson Parish, and 58,968 in Orleans.

"It's about taking a consumer-driven mindset and not to make a college education a commodity or a product because it's really so much more than that," Henderson said. "But (instead) focusing on the needs of the student rather than the institution."

But the lowered tuition rate within the Compete Louisiana initiative does have some business sense, Henderson said.

Most of the system schools' courses ranged from $400 to $500 per credit hour, Henderson said. But the lowered price of tuition won't produce "a loss of revenue in any way" across the system, Henderson said, because the number of expected returning students will produce a high enough total revenue that will offset the discounts.

Essentially, the universities will earn at least a percentage of the remaining tuition they missed out on when the students dropped out.

"They cannot come to us on a traditional model," Henderson said. "They can't come to us in a traditional time, our traditional place or at our traditional price. But if we can come up with a way to leverage our collective capacity, served at a lower cost than every before, and certainly offer them a price that's much more accessible, much more affordable, then that's going to grow everybody from a financial perspective and from a mission perspective."

Former students who qualify for the program will have access to the lowered tuition rate immediately, including the UL System's upcoming summer coursework.

The campuses of Louisiana's higher institutions remain shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic, but schools are each preparing plans for a full return in the fall semester.

As former students earn their degrees within Compete Louisiana, Henderson said the initiative will then grow workers within Louisiana, growing the state's tax revenues, helping the region's overall revenue growth.

"This is a revolution designed to give Louisiana a competitive advantage," Henderson said.

Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.