Jindal pledges money for community, technical colleges

As part of plan to end six straight years of budget cuts to Louisiana’s colleges and universities, Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed an extra $6.1 million for the state’s community and technical colleges.

The governor’s chief financial adviser, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, told the state Senate Finance Committee that the $6 million would go to schools whose rapid growth has outpaced the amount of money they are getting from the state.

The money is part of multi-million dollar package pledged in new state dollars for higher education in next year’s budget.

Among the schools slated to get a share are Baton Rouge Community College, Delgado Community College and Bossier Parish Community College, Nichols said, with the latter being one of the most poorly funded schools in the state.

Nichols added that the schools that get the extra funding will be better positioned to compete for a $40 million pot of higher education money the governor previously proposed.

The Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy fund is a collaboration with the state Department of Economic Development and the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

The idea is for schools to closely match the courses they offer with the state’s work needs. In other words, colleges and universities will be in competition with each other for a share of the $40 million.

Schools that produce graduates in fields that are expected to propel the state’s economy forward would get a larger share of the money.

Schools would be on the hook to raise $200,000 in private investment before they could collect $1 million in WISE funding.

The private investment doesn’t necessarily have to be in cash, Nichols said. It could include an equivalent value in goods or services such as internship opportunities or property donations.

The WISE fund and the $6 million for community and technical colleges are part of $54 million in new dollars the governor pledged for higher education in his 2014-15 budget.

It’s a contrast from the $700 million in state funding Jindal and the Legislature have stripped from higher education since 2008 as they worked to balance year-after-year state budgets.

The governor’s staff has been adamant that their most recent budget proposal gives Louisiana’s higher education community what was asked for.

In what is likely the most generous part of the governor’s plan, is Jindal’s pledge that schools will get to keep the extra money they pull in from tuition increases.

It would be a reversal from what’s become the norm over the past several years.

The 2010 GRAD Act law allows schools to raise tuition up to 10 percent each year provided they meet certain performance benchmarks including improved graduation and retention rates.

But in recent years, schools would raise tuition under their GRAD Act authority, only to have lawmakers strip them of the same amount of state general fund dollars — erasing any benefit schools might have seen by raising tuition.

If schools are allowed to keep their tuition, they would pocket an estimated $88 million.