Regents to wait on tuition challenge

Two-thirds of Legislature must OK hikes

An effort to challenge the practice that two-thirds of the state Legislature must sign off before colleges and universities can raise tuition will likely wait until after the legislative session ends June 6.

The Louisiana Board of Regents voted last month to ask the state’s four college and university systems if they would support filing a lawsuit that could potentially take tuition control away from lawmakers and hand it over to the institutions.

On Wednesday, Board of Regents General Counsel Uma Subramanian reported back that after “extensive conversations” the LSU, University of Louisiana, Southern University and the Louisiana Community and Technical College systems are “not enthusiastic” about pursuing the issue while legislators are in town.

The state Legislature is considering several bills that would loosen their control on tuition. Historically, lawmakers have been reluctant to hand over any type of tuition authority to the college and university systems.

The issue came up in March when newly appointed regent Edward Markle, of New Orleans, questioned whether an old state law is being interpreted correctly.

The issue is whether tuition is considered a fee.

A 1995 state constitutional provision, approved by voters, requires a two-third vote by the Legislature before a fee charged by a public agency can be increased.

One year later, then-Attorney General Richard Ieyoub issued an opinion, which has been interpreted ever since, that includes tuition as a fee.

Louisiana is the only state that requires two-thirds legislative approval on tuition and fee increases. The high threshold has essentially made changes to tuition policy a nonstarter in the state.

The regents, last month, explored filing a lawsuit in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge asking the court to rule if tuition, is in fact, a fee.

At the time, Markle, an attorney, said he didn’t agree with the attorney general’s opinion.

“A fee is for a driver’s license or a speeding ticket,” Markle said. “Tuition is something you pay for yourself voluntarily. It’s not a fee you pay the government; you pay it to educate yourself.”

On Wednesday, Regent Bob Levy agreed with the systems that pursuing relief in court should wait until after the legislative session.

“I hope this Legislature is going to do something courageous and give us the tuition authority that we’ve been asking for for years,” he said.

Regent Bill Fenstermaker said he hopes the board and the management boards overseeing the institutions continue to pursue the issue at the appropriate time.

He suggested that regents could work with the Legislature to have the issue decided once and for all.