Jindal supports giving universities more control over tuition

Gov. Bobby Jindal said he would support giving Louisiana’s public colleges and universities more control over tuition, provided they agree to higher performance standards and greater oversight from the state Legislature.

Jindal’s comments come as the Board of Regents, which sets policy for all the state’s public university systems, is considering whether to take the fight for “tuition control” to court. Louisiana legislators historically been reluctant to grant institutions the power to set their own tuition prices.

Jindal didn’t respond to several interview requests last week, but in a prepared statement he was quoted as saying: “If higher education management boards are willing to accept performance standards and increased accountability from the Legislature in exchange for more tuition flexibility, we think that’s a good dynamic for our state, our students and our universities.”

The governor’s stance also jibes with a plan two legislators have floated in advance of the legislative session starting April 8.

The Regents last week publicly announced it was looking at the possibility of filing a lawsuit that could potentially take tuition control away from the Louisiana Legislature and give it to the institutions.

It is a widely held belief in Louisiana that any college tuition increase has to be approved by two-thirds vote of the state Legislature — one of the toughest thresholds in the country. A 1995 state constitutional provision, approved by voters, requires a two-thirds 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 tuition is a fee.

The Regents said they are discussing the matter with the state’s four public college and university systems before deciding whether they want to file a lawsuit challenging Ieyoub’s opinion.

The Regents also are pursuing a number of legal changes in the upcoming legislative session. The measures would allow schools to charge more for high-cost, high-demand programs and to charge students on a per-credit basis. Schools are currently limited to charging students tuition for only 12 credits per semester.

It’s unclear whether the Legislature will be amenable to any of those changes, but at least one legislator, state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, says he would need some conditions set before he could support those ideas.

Appel, who chairs the state Senate Education Committee has argued that Louisiana’s colleges and universities are underfunded compared to their peers in the south and across the nation. But what no one talks about, Appel said, is the state’s “performance problem.”

Appel and Republican state Rep. Steve Carter, of Baton Rouge and chair of the House Education Committee, are pushing a plan that would more closely link the amount of money colleges and universities get from the state with performance measures including graduation and retention rates.

Appel said an outcome-based bill would give schools a clear target to hit.

For instance, a school like LSU, a national, four-year research institution, would be compared to schools throughout the South with similar characteristics, Appel said.

Over time, LSU should be able to meet or exceed the average graduation and retention rates of those schools, he said.

Appel added that state funding to schools would be broken into two parts: an “expense” category for maintenance and utilities and an “outcomes” category for academic performance.

The “outcomes” category would make up a roughly 25 percent to 40 percent share of a school’s total state funding, Appel has said, while the “expense” category — 60 percent to 75 percent — would stay the same, allowing schools to fund operations.

“We want a simple formula with just a handful of variables that everyone can easily understand, but also something with some teeth in it,” Appel has said.

Appel added that he would support giving institutions control over setting tuition only if an outcome-based bill passed first.