Tuition increase approved for 90,000 college students

Students at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette and Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond will likely see their tuition rise starting this fall.

The University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a 10 percent tuition hike at all nine of its campuses. Before the increase can take effect, though, it also has to be approved by the state Board of Regents higher education policy board.

The UL System is the largest college and university system in Louisiana with 90,000 students at the University of New Orleans, ULL, Southeastern and six other campuses around the state.

The move comes just days after Gov. Bobby Jindal released a $24.7 billion state budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Jindal’s budget relies on $75 million in tuition increases to help offset about $209 million in cuts from Louisiana’s colleges, universities and hospitals.

Edwin Litolff, the UL System’s assistant vice president for budget and finance, said the average increase for in-state students will be $546, bringing a year’s tuition to about $6,103, or 81 percent of the $7,390 Southern regional average.

Out-of-state students would see their tuition rise an average of $1,590 to about $16,379 next year.

Approval of the tuition increases is now regarded as a formality in Louisiana as colleges have gone from being primarily funded by the state, to the current situation where students carry most of the burden.

The tuition hikes approved Tuesday are contingent on each campus passing a series of performance measures spelled out in the 2010 LA GRAD Act. The law ties 15 percent of state funding to schools that meet retention, graduation and other performance measures. It also gives campuses permission to raise tuition by up to 10 percent each year if they meet those goals.

Beatrice Baldwin, the UL System’s vice president of research and performance assessment, said she expects all nine campuses to meet their GRAD Act targets when they are announced by the state later this year.

The UL System’s tuition increase is likely just the first of four across-the-board tuition hikes to be approved by higher education management boards in the next several months.

The GRAD Act was originally written to reward schools with additional money for performing well. But after five consecutive years of state budget cuts — $625 million since 2008 — schools rely on the tuition increases to balance their budgets.

Southern University System President Ronald Mason, on Monday, warned a higher education panel that meeting GRAD Act performance measures will be increasingly more difficult as schools cope with reduced funding.

Last June, LSU at Eunice became the first school in the state to miss its GRAD Act targets since the law was passed three years ago.

LSU-E consistently has a higher graduation rate than its peers around the state, but failing to meet its GRAD Act goals cost the small school nearly $1.5 million.

Last year, LSU-E Chancellor Bill Nunez acknowledged that his school was ambitious in negotiating its GRAD Act goals with the state, but also blames the failure to meet its targets on a combination of factors.

One of those factors is cutbacks to helpful tutoring programs because of state budget cuts, he said.