Miscalculating the number of students who earned degrees during the 2010-11 school year nearly cost Southern University at Shreveport more than $800,000 in state funding and authority to raise tuition 10 percent in the fall. The situation was ultimately resolved on Friday.
The miscalculation involved just three students the two-year school known as SUSLA failed to report to the state as part of its LA Grad Act requirements.
The 2010 GRAD Act ties 15 percent of state funding to schools that meet performance targets, and also gives campuses permission to raise tuition by up to 10 percent each year.
Colleges signed six-year GRAD Act agreements in 2010 in which they set for themselves performance goals related to graduation rates and student retention.
Each year, the Louisiana Board of Regents, the state’s higher education board, certifies whether schools reached their targets.
Meeting GRAD Act targets has become a do or die situation for Louisiana’s public colleges that have seen funding from the state shrink by more than $420 million since 2008.
The nightmare of not meeting GRAD Act requirements came true when in June the Regents announced that for the first time, two schools — SUSLA and LSU-Eunice — did not reach their targets.
After the Regents meeting, Southern System President Ronald Mason said he thought SUSLA had a good chance to have the Regents’ ruling overturned on appeal due to what he called a “technical error.”
The Regents, who do not meet in July, agreed to have their executive committee meet on Friday to hear SUSLA’s appeal. During the meeting in New Orleans, Larry Tremblay, the Regents deputy commissioner for planning research and academic affairs, explained the situation was resolved without going through the formal appeal process.
Tremblay said SUSLA had fallen three short of the 70 graduates in the 2010-11 school year it needed to fulfill the “completer” requirement of the GRAD Act.
Tremblay explained that Mason and SUSLA Chancellor Ray Belton, during a July 3 meeting with Regents staff, identified four students they had omitted in their initial report to the state.
Regents staff determined that one of the students graduated in the summer, and, therefore did not count. But the other three students — two in an airplane technical program and one in an early childhood care program — completed the necessary coursework in time, Tremblay said.
The Regents’ Executive Committee voted unanimously Friday to award SUSLA the “green” designation needed to pass the GRAD Act.
SUSLA spokesman Bill Sharp said the turnaround means the school will collect more than $800,000 in state funding and will be able to raise tuition from $1,498 per semester to $1,652 per semester for full-time students starting in the fall.
Mason on Friday, said the miscalculation was an anomaly caused when the school converted an associate degree program to a degree program.
“Generally speaking, we’re very good with data. We reorganized our whole Institutional Research shop when I got here. All data is filtered through a central point before it’s reported to the Regents.”
Belton, on Friday, said the experience of almost losing a significant chunk of funding has led to improvements at the school.
“Let me just say we are pleased the Regents recognized SUSLA’s compliance with the GRAD Act,” he said.