La. Spotlight: Students pay more, get less at La. colleges

Louisiana’s public college students, whose classes begin on many campuses this week, are kicking off a new school year with ever-growing tuition and fee costs.

They’re not necessarily getting more in return for the money. They may not even be getting the same level of services they received the year before, when they paid less.

In many instances, students will have fewer course offerings and campus programs than they could have had only a few years ago for cheaper rates.

Their rising tuition and fee dollars just help reduce the bleeding.

Welcome to the sixth year of continuing state budget cuts across higher education, with no immediate end in sight. As state funding shrinks to the campuses, students and their parents are being asked to pay more to fill the gap.

The state’s free college tuition program called TOPS helps some students. But not all students are on TOPS, and TOPS doesn’t cover all the various fees that keep inching upward.

Gov. Bobby Jindal and lawmakers have stripped $690 million in state funding from higher education since 2008, a 48 percent reduction, according to data from the Board of Regents.

Tuition increases on students have offset only about two-thirds of the losses.

And while other states are starting to reinvest in higher education, Louisiana doesn’t seem poised to reverse course and boost funding.

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities issued a report last month that showed 37 states have bumped up their financing for public universities.

Louisiana was one of only six states that continued to shrink its state support for college campuses, and it topped the list with the largest state financing cut to higher education, not exactly a list a state should want to lead.

Adding a new twist to the mix, the governor and lawmakers funded part of this year’s budget for campuses with uncertain financing, like property sales and loan repayments.

Lawmakers aren’t suggesting they expect the cuts to end — or offering their own ideas for how to improve the budget stability for Louisiana’s colleges and universities.

Just last week, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, urged higher education leaders to devise new ideas for financing their campuses, acknowledging that the schools have fallen behind after several years of cuts.

“Without stable and predictable funding, our universities and our state will simply not be prepared to face the future realities of the job market,” Kleckley said.

But it’s unclear what different suggestions the higher education community could make after several years of offering ideas and seeing them rejected by the Legislature.

Meanwhile, students continue to pay more while they may be getting less.

At Grambling State University, where classes begin Monday, full-time, in-state students will pay $5,898 for the 2013-14 school year in tuition and fees — $624 more than last year. At the University of Louisiana at Lafayette they’ll pay $818 more this year, $6,180 in tuition and fees. At Nicholls State University, it’s a $729 cost hike, to $6,408 for the year.

At the state’s flagship university, where classes begin Aug. 26, full-time, in-state undergraduate students at LSU will pay at least $7,834 for the fall and spring semesters, an $880 increase. At nearby Southern University in Baton Rouge, they’ll pay $6,534, up by $724.

Community and technical college students also face increases of 7 percent to 10 percent. A full-time student attending a community college is paying about $380 more for the fall and spring semesters over the 2012-13 school year.

Students and their parents are on track for more of the same next year.

Melinda Deslatte covers the Louisiana Capitol for The Associated Press. Her email address is mdeslatte@ap.org.