Thousands of Tigers, Cajuns, Jaguars rally at Capitol to protest proposed cuts to Louisiana higher education _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Tanbra Porter, a student at Northwest LouisianaTechnical College in Mansfield, holds a sign reading 'No More Cuts!' during a rally on the steps of the State Capitol during the legislative session to protest possible funding cuts to higher education systems in Louisiana.

When a law is in the "only in Louisiana" category, we ought to wonder if it is wise. Louisiana is the only state to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature for tuition decisions, typically made by college leaders in the other states.

We see this as an unreasonable burden, not least because of the behind-the-scenes politicking that is required of college leaders who have enough challenges on their hands already.

Amendment No. 2 on the Nov. 8 ballot changes the Louisiana Constitution to put tuition authority — to lower, as well as to raise it, according to need — with state management boards for colleges and universities.

We do not see this as a license to raise tuition. There is a natural limit on college prices, and that is the marketplace of students and their families. Just as the market will prevent a business from charging more than its customers can afford, so colleges will be looking at their students' ability to pay.

The Legislature, and the governor through appointments to the colleges' boards, have plenty of influence without requiring university leaders to go hat-in-hand for a difficult two-thirds vote over every tuition increase.

Louisiana's requirement was a byproduct of a 1995 a constitutional amendment aimed at fee increases in state government generally, but it included tuition and fees at colleges.

The consequence: Louisiana has had some of the lowest tuition rates in the country, but also some of the lowest overall funding per student.

That hurts our universities' abilities to compete, either at the four-year or the two-year level. And during the administration of former Gov. Bobby Jindal, budget cuts drastically reduced state contributions to public colleges; because of the politics of the two-thirds requirement, some tuition increases were authorized, but those laws have expired.

"Unfortunately, that money was largely used to mitigate even greater cuts in state support to higher education, not increase quality and improve services, which is what students tend to expect of higher tuition and fees," the Council for a Better Louisiana comments.

CABL and other longtime supporters of higher education, including business leaders, are among the supporters of Amendment 2. We join with them in encouraging voters to approve it.

Louisiana desperately needs a more competitive system of colleges and universities. We can't get there with the quagmire of politics inherent in today's requirement of a two-thirds vote of the Legislature for even the most modest tuition increase.