Public colleges and universities would be prohibited from withholding diplomas, transcripts and grades because of student debt under a bill that won approval Wednesday in the Louisiana House Education Committee.
The measure, House Bill 676, passed 11-3 after a lengthy discussion and next face action in the full House.
Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, sponsor of the measure, said she would be willing to continue discussions about her proposal amid concerns that LSU officials and others have objections.
State Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, was elected to a second term in office when she defeated Paul “Polo” Carter, a Democrat, in the race for…
No LSU official testified Wednesday.
Emerson reluctantly agreed to remove private colleges from the ban after lawmakers said those schools do not have the same options as public colleges in collecting student debt.
An amendment to do just that by state Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans passed 9-5.
"With them not here I am feeling like I have to offer the amendment," Freeman said, a reference to private college officials.
Leaders of the University of Louisiana System and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System praised the measure.
"We have a number of more effective tools that we can utilize on student debt," said Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System.
Henderson told the committee it makes no sense to put up barriers for students at the same time college leaders are trying to remove roadblocks, including his announcement Tuesday of reduced tuition for the fall semester.
In an initiative to encourage adults who didn't complete their degree to return to school, the University of Louisiana System will immediately…
Henderson said linking student access to grades and transcripts to debt could be seen as sort of a "debtor's prison".
He said problem debt probably applies to hundreds of students and that the state Office of Debt Recovery does a good job of resolving issues.
"That is probably the most effective tool we have," Henderson told the panel.
The UL System includes the University of New Orleans, Southeastern Louisiana University and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Chris Broadwater, vice president for workforce policies for the LCTCS, said the system's key goal is getting students through college and into industries that need their skills.
Adding more hurdles for students is the last thing schools should be doing, said Broadwater, a former House member who served on the House Education Committee.
The bill would also prohibit colleges from charging more for transcripts and other services to students with outstanding bills.
Emerson said she is aware of concerns about her legislation.
"Dissolving people of debt is not the purpose of the bill," she said.
Henderson cited the case of a student who suddenly left school before later being admitted into an exclusive nursing program at Dillard University in New Orleans.
He said that, while he found a way for Dillard to get her academic transcript, the student's state income tax refund was sent to her previous college to address the debt she left behind.
Emerson said student debt ranges from $25 parking tickets to parts of their tuition bill.