Two-year schools compromise on tuition increase

Louisiana’s community and technical colleges reached a tentative compromise with the Board of Regents on Tuesday, avoiding what was shaping up to be a fight over how the state’s two-year schools will be funded over the next year.

Under the handshake agreement, Louisiana’s two-year schools will emerge with a net gain — raising tuition by $12 million while absorbing an $8.6 million state budget cut in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The agreement hinges on Regents Board members accepting the terms of the deal at their Wednesday morning meeting.

The rift came down to what each side perceived as fairness. The regents, which oversee all of public higher education in Louisiana, took the position that the state’s two-year schools were maneuvering to avoid taking their “equitable share” of state budget cuts.

For their part, representatives of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System said they were being singled out and forced to take more than their share of budget cuts that should be spread out evenly amongst themselves and the LSU, Southern University and University of Louisiana systems.

The issue started taking shape before this year’s legislative session when LCTCS representatives indicated they weren’t going to raise tuition for the 2013-14 school year. Colleges and universities are allowed to raise tuition up to 10 percent each year provided they meet certain performance measures spelled out in the 2010 LA GRAD Act.

Lately, however, meeting the GRAD Act goals hasn’t been as beneficial as originally intended. The trend has been that for every dollar schools have raised from tuition over the past several years, the Legislature and the governor have reduced the money they get from the state by the same amount.

By initially foregoing a tuition increase, LCTCS avoided the dollar-for-dollar general fund reductions that the state’s other schools absorbed this year.

The problem came earlier this month when LCTCS changed course and decided to raise tuition after all. The increase is expected to generate an additional $12 million for community and technical colleges, thus avoiding the dollar for dollar reduction in the state general funds.

LCTCS President Joe May said Tuesday that changing course wasn’t part of any political maneuvering. Schools are only allowed to raise tuition up to the Southern regional average.

May said he didn’t get notice until midyear that his schools were eligible to go forward with a tuition hike.

May said the regents responded to the LCTCS reversal by suggesting that Louisiana’s two-year schools alone would absorb an $11 million budget reduction state leaders handed down to higher education institutions earlier this month.

May responded by calling a special board meeting Tuesday, during which he said he was prepared to “suspend” his system’s tuition hike. The idea was that by not going forward with the tuition increase, the regents would revert to their usual policy and spread the $11 million budget cut among all four of Louisiana’s college and university systems.

During the meeting, May and invited guest State Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell agreed to the framework of a deal. In addition to the $8 million cut to LCTCS, the agreement also calls for LSU to lose just short of $2 million; the UL System to lose just shy of $1 million; and Southern to lose about $100,000.