Southern University’s main Baton Rouge campus should hit the student performance and graduation targets needed under the GRAD Act, System President Ronald Mason Jr. said Friday.
If Mason is correct, the financially troubled university will avoid losing several million dollars out of its 2012-13 operating budget.
The law also allows colleges to increase tuition by up to 10 percent a year, if they meet certain performance goals like improved graduation and retention rates.
A tuition increase is inevitable should Southern hit its GRAD Act target, said Mason, who is charge of all the Southern campuses in Louisiana.
“We have to raise tuition,” Mason said. “We have no choice.”
Additionally, the state’s performance-based funding formula ties 15 percent of overall state funding for each college on meeting the GRAD Act goals.
The 2010 LA GRAD Act is made up of 52 different benchmarks based predominantly on student success.
For Southern, meeting the GRAD Act targets could mean the difference between bringing in or losing about $8 million in state funding and tuition increases, Mason said.
The Louisiana Board of Regents is expected to review Southern’s GRAD Act report at their June meeting.
Declining enrollment and state budget cuts prompted Southern to declare a financial emergency, called exigency, last year. Exigency allows administrators to more easily cut personnel and programs. It led to the elimination of about 50 positions on campus, including layoff notices to about 10 tenured faculty members.
Although those circumstances make the Board of Regents’ June decision especially high-stakes, Southern Chancellor James Llorens, like Mason, said Friday he was confident.
“We feel good,” said Llorens, who oversees Southern’s Baton Rouge campus. Meeting the GRAD Act “means a lot to us. It means a lot to every institution in the state.”
But whether Southern can avoid more layoffs depends largely on what happens at the State Capitol, Mason said.
State officials recently lowered state revenue projections by $211 million in the current budget year, which ends June 30, and by $304 million in the upcoming budget year, largely because of lower-than-expected state tax collections.
Within the next week or two, legislators are expected to decide how to handle those cuts.
Beginning May 10, the full Louisiana House is expected to debate House Bill 1, the state’s proposed $25.5 billion state operating budget for the new fiscal year that begins July 1.
In the meantime, Southern’s campus and system leaders have been pursuing private fundraising, raffles and other avenues to help generate money, according to the Southern University Board of Supervisors.
The university is also looking at extending in-state tuition to some students from Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas in a move that could pump further money in the main campus.
“We can’t control what happens in the legislature,” Mason said. “We are kind of dealing with a moving target, but we have a plan.”
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