Southern board approves tuition increase

The Southern University Board of Supervisors on Friday approved an across-the-board 10 percent tuition hike on its campuses, including New Orleans and Baton Rouge, despite worries that the increased costs could hurt enrollment and lead to more students dropping out of school.

The majority of Louisiana’s college and university students can expect to pay higher tuition this coming fall due to the way Gov. Bobby Jindal constructed his executive budget.

Jindal’s proposed $24.7 billion spending plan for the 2013-14 fiscal year strips $75 million in state funding from Louisiana’s public colleges and universities. The governor’s plan relies on schools charging students an extra $75 million next year to offset the reduction in state general fund dollars.

Jindal’s budget has sparked controversy throughout Louisiana’s higher education system because it relies on so-called “one-time” money that likely won’t be available next year and contingency money from property sales and lawsuit settlements that may not pan out this year.

Jindal has not responded to three interview requests made through his press office dating back to last week. Jindal’s press secretary, Sean Lansing, argued that the governor’s budget proposal protects higher education and “does not include any cuts to higher education funding.”

But at the campus level, Jindal’s budget gives institutions less money from the state’s general fund during the 2013-14 fiscal year than they received in the 2012-13 year, which amounts to a state budget cut to higher education.

Southern University President Ronald Mason said the system will be down nearly $7.3 million in state funding should Jindal’s budget be adopted by the Legislature.

LSU System President William Jenkins phrased it a different way, saying swapping state dollars for tuition hikes makes the numbers look the same, but doesn’t tell the whole story.

“A tuition dollar is not the same as a state general fund dollar,” Jenkins said.

What that means, Jenkins said, is that when it comes to making money from tuition, institutions only collect about $0.83 on the dollar when tuition waivers, financial aid and scholarships are factored in.

“Although the numbers may be equivalent, our purchasing power is not the same,” Jenkins said.

So far this year, LSU has not yet joined Southern and the nine-campus University of Louisiana System in approving fall tuition hikes. But approval of tuition increases have become 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.

Colleges and universities have to pass a series of performance measures spelled out in the 2010 LA GRAD Act in order to raise tuition. If the GRAD Act targets are met, Louisiana’s higher education policy board, the state Board of Regents has to sign off on the tuition hikes before they can take effect.

Students in the Louisiana Community and Technical College System will likely be spared paying extra tuition next school year, by rule, as those institutions, including Baton Rouge Community College and Delgado Community College in New Orleans are already at or very near the southern regional tuition average.

At Southern on Friday, Baton Rouge Chancellor James Llorens described the tuition increase as critical to the school but a burden on students.

“It hurts not so much in recruitment but in retention,” Llorens said. He explained that out-of-state students would suffer the most as financial aid doesn’t cover a lot of the costs they have to pay.

“We are really starting to price ourselves out of the market with our out-of-state students,” he said.

Board member Tony Clayton suggested that Southern administrators making more than $100,000 per year take a pay cut to ease some of the financial burden. “We cut faculty, we increase tuition; it’s time for these administrators to get out of the wagon and start pulling it,” Clayton said.

Mason, Southern’s president, didn’t rule out Clayton’s suggestion.

He said there between 20 and 25 administrators system wide make that much money, including roughly six employees at the system office.

“With this upcoming budget, I think everything is on the table,” Mason said.