Leaders request to maintain tuition levels
By Koran Addo
Capitol news bureau
October 22, 2012
For the second day in a row, higher education leaders called on the state Legislature to leave tuition-raising authority to the management boards that govern Louisiana’s four college systems.
Louisiana is the only state in the nation where the Legislature has complete tuition control over public colleges and universities.
State Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell asked legislators Thursday to consider ceding some tuition control to the management boards. He said $426 million in state budget cuts since 2008 made it difficult to maintain expensive academic programs and retain the faculty needed to teach those programs.
On Friday, Southern system President Ronald Mason told the Joint Budget Committee that systems could build their budgets “more creatively” if given the chance.
The $21 million in budget cuts since 2008 and increased admission standards that have been phased in since 2006 likely mean Southern will have to expand its recruiting base and go after more affluent markets, Mason said.
Southern is in the midst of consolidating departments across its five campuses and expanding into online education to save money and generate new revenue.
Mason has described the situation as “the new normal” with the state contributing less and less money to colleges and universities.
Kevin Appleton, the Southern University system vice president of finance and business affairs, described how regional peers charge significantly more in tuition while also receiving more dollars in state support.
Southern has done away with salary increases, eliminated furloughs and cut office staff by 43 percent to stay out of the red, Appleton told the Joint Budget Committee.
Southern University at Baton Rouge Chancellor James Llorens also endorsed a move to hand tuition control over to the institutions.
The Baton Rouge campus, he said, has eliminated 71 vacant jobs in recent years and reduced staff by 116 positions this year to stay afloat.
But Friday’s meeting wasn’t all doom and gloom. After listening to two days of testimony from higher education leaders detailing how budget cuts have hamstrung universities, there were some bright spots.
State legislators praised the leaders of state community and technical colleges for their work in preparing students to enter the workforce.
State Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, singled out the Louisiana Community and Technical College system for having best weathered the state’s recent financial storm.
“Your organization is probably the best return on the investment we have in Louisiana,” Harrison told LCTCS President Joe May during the Joint Budget Committee hearing.
Harrison credited LCTCS for making inroads in providing a skilled workforce to fill the plumbing, pipefitting and electrical jobs Louisiana employers are staffing with out-of-state workers.
But state community and technical colleges are largely in the same boat as the four-year schools.
May described how funding per student has dropped from about $4,700 to about $2,200 since the 2007-08 fiscal year, disproportionately hurting the state’s technical schools, which rely more on state funding to operate than on tuition and fees.
May said the system has saved money by reducing its workforce by 25 percent since 2008, going from about 4,200 employees to roughly 3,100.
May also signaled that technical schools likely will have to continue to scale back their inmate training partnerships with the Louisiana Department of Corrections as state dollars continue to dry up.
“We can’t afford it. ...” May said. “It’s not a viable way to go.”