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Allow Tuition to Keep Pace, PAR Says

A new report by the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) recommends several policy changes that would allow higher education institutions in this state more flexibility to raise tuition and fees within certain limits. “Higher Education Tuition and Fees: Louisiana’s Options for Keeping Pace” finds Louisiana’s tuition and required student fees at four- and two-year colleges and universities are some of the lowest in the South.

Louisiana is one of only two states where the Legislature has the primary authority for establishing required charges at all higher education institutions. While affordability for students is an important goal of tuition-setting policies, adequate and predictable increases that keep pace with peer institutions also must be allowed. The policies recommended in this report would provide sufficient flexibility for reasonable, annual adjustments that would keep charges affordable by tying tuition and fee growth to rates at peer institutions and to growth in the state’s family income level. Better outcomes also would be encouraged by tying increases to the achievement of institutional performance standards.

“This objective approach is a long-term solution to the annual political infighting over tuition and fee increases,” said PAR President Jim Brandt. “Requiring performance measures to be met ensures better outcomes from Louisiana’s higher education investment.”

There currently are no proposals before the Legislature to raise tuition at any of the state’s higher education institutions. This likely is due to the widespread support higher education enjoys this year for a major boost in state appropriations that will bring each of Louisiana’s institutions up to full-funding levels and allow for faculty pay raises. In coming years, the tuition debate is sure to return.

A 1995 constitutional amendment has required that all increases in tuition and required fees must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Since then, tuition and fee costs have lagged behind other states and state appropriations have out-paced the South. Louisiana has increased state funding for higher education by almost 56 percent when adjusted for inflation, compared to an 11 percent increase for the South. Yet, state appropriations still do not exceed the Southern average.

PAR’s recommendations for a new tuition- and fee-setting policy are as follows:

Recommendation 1. Enact legislation to allow higher education management boards to increase tuition and required fees for Louisiana’s public higher education institutions up to maximum levels that are tied to charges at peer institutions and relative household income levels without a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

Recommendation 2 . Require institutions to meet certain performance standards outlined in the new master plan for higher education (currently under development) in order to impose tuition and fee increases.

Recommendation 3. Continue to fund TOPS fully to keep pace with tuition and fee increases.

Implementation of these recommendations would allow higher education management boards to raise student charges beyond their current levels at most institutions. If the policy had been in place in 2004-05, annual tuition and fees at LSU could have been $440 higher and other four-year institutions could have been from $276 to $613 higher. Charges at the state’s two-year institutions were already at their maximum levels. If all charges had been raised to the maximum levels that year, the additional cost to TOPS would have been nearly $17 million.

The primary author of this report is Cheryl Serrett, PAR Research Analyst. Funding for this research was provided by the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation.

For additional information, write to PAR at P.O. Box 14776, Baton Rouge, LA 70898-4776, visit PAR’s Web site at www.la-par.org or call (225) 926-8414.

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