Louisiana’s full-time college students could be on the hook to pay an additional $300 or more per semester in new fees over the next three years, according to a plan State Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell floated to a state Senate panel on Monday.
The proposed “stabilization” fee of up to $25 per credit hour is intended to partially offset more than $100 million in state funding cuts higher education has absorbed since the beginning of last year, Purcell said. The fees would be separate from tuition.
With more cuts on the horizon, including an estimated $21 million possibly coming out of the proposed more than $25 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, Purcell said Louisiana’s colleges need a boost.
“Many of our institutions are struggling,” Purcell said. “We don’t know what the cuts will mean, but we know for some, the cuts will be quite painful.”
Each of the state’s four college systems would have discretion to charge the entire fee or a portion of it before it “sunsets,” or expires after three years, he said.
The new charge could bring in as much as $107 million per year, he added.
Within the next month, Purcell said, the Louisiana Board of Regents will propose the fee as an amendment to House Bill 1078.
The legislation sponsored by state Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, would let colleges increase tuition to the average of their regional peers.
Purcell said the idea for the stabilization fee originated during a meeting he had with the state’s higher education system presidents last week.
The presidents, he said, were trying to come up with an alternative to asking the Legislature to approve a tuition hike. “They felt the better approach was a fee. It would be for three years, keep tuition at the same rate and it would help us get through this shortfall,” Purcell said.
A bonus, he said, is the fee would not be considered a tuition hike, and therefore, would not affect TOPS, the state’s merit-based scholarship program.
Louisiana Community and Technical College System President Joe May said while he supports the added charge, it’s not a given that his system will take advantage of it. “I’m certainly in favor of anything that would stabilize the budget and mitigate cuts,” May said. “I would need to talk with our board before we decided anything. We will have to study the impact. Our students are price sensitive, so while we’re supportive of the fee, I can’t say whether we would implement it.”
Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr. had largely the same response.
“I’m supportive of it. It gives us an option to that we have to have in order to fill some revenue holes.”
While Purcell told members of the state Senate Finance Committee that the fee would be in lieu of a tuition hike, many of Louisiana college students can expect to see costs go up.
Across Louisiana’s universities tuition has increased by 30 percent since 2008.
Additionally, next month, the regents are expected to announce which of Louisiana’s colleges met the student performance and graduation targets needed under the LA Grad Act.
Colleges that meet the criteria of the 2010 legislation are authorized to raise tuition by 10 percent.
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved