PAR Says Allow Tuition Increases
A bill to decrease legislative control over setting tuition for higher education institutions would grant college and university officials a reprieve for a few years from the annual struggle to get two-thirds of the Legislature to approve tuition increases. While the proposed policy does not go far enough in expanding flexibility for institutions, it is a first step for removing routine tuition policy decisions from the political battleground.
HB 734 failed to get the two-thirds majority vote needed on the House floor, but rumors are that it could be brought up again with an amendment that would allow tuition levels to be raised each of the next two years as opposed to four. However temporary the fix, it is important to the state that this authority be granted. Tuition charges at Louisiana’s colleges and universities are far below those of their peer institutions and that, in turn, hinders their ability to be competitive and effective.
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 should be allowed.
Decreasing legislative interference in setting tuition for higher education institutions should be a high priority for a Legislature interested in promoting the state’s economic development. Tuition should not be based on political pressures, but instead on more objective measures. The PAR analysis “Higher Education Tuition and Fees: Louisiana’s Options for Keeping Pace,” issued in May 2007, recommends several policy changes that would allow higher education institutions more flexibility to raise tuition and fees within certain limits. The report recommends a permanent shift of authority for tuition-setting.
The policies recommended in the PAR 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. The PAR report is available at www.la-par.org.
The mere mention of increasing tuition strikes fear into the hearts of most students and parents. However, inadequate tuition that affects an institution’s ability to attract students or faculty and hampers graduates’ earning potential should be just as foreboding.