College fee hike bill nears final vote

Louisiana college and university students could end up paying a new fee for maintenance of campus buildings under a bill that neared final legislative passage Monday.

If the House concurs in Senate changes, the legislation goes to the governor for signing into law.

The Louisiana Senate voted 36-3 for the House-passed measure, which would allow colleges to levy up to a $48 per semester charge among other new fees as campuses struggle to meet needs with dwindling state support.

Colleges have a $1.7 billion deferred maintenance backlog and are also looking for ways to cover costs of expensive new programs. The legislation includes the ability to charge LSU digital media students up to $2,500 per semester.

The fee hikes would begin in the fall.

“This very simple step is nothing more than a stop gap,” said state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, who handled the bill on the Senate floor.

Senators complained about being caught in a dilemma between fees that made it harder for students and their families to afford a college education and reduced state dollars going into higher education.

“This is wrong to balance higher education on the backs of students and families,” said state Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-West Monroe. “We haven’t been doing our job.”

State Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, said he would vote for House Bill 671 “with great pain.”

“The struggle I have is we can no longer look at college as an opportunity for the working class. It’s become more and more difficult,” Long said. On the reverse side, “we have cut and cut and cut higher education, so their backs are against the wall,” he said.

Republican State Sens. Dan Claitor, of Baton Rouge, and Robert Adley, of Benton, said the state’s propensity to dedicate revenues has led to the squeeze on higher education, which like health care has been exposed to the budget axe.

Claitor said proposed constitutional amendments locking up health care dollars will leave higher education even more subject to cuts.

State Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans, said some $650 million has been cut from state higher education funding in recent years.

“At some point we have to do something like maybe capping TOPS. It’s not fair to young people trying to do what’s right. This is backward,” Peterson said.