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Tuition boosted at Louisiana colleges

BATON ROUGE (AP) — When students return to Louisiana’s public colleges this month, they’ll be slapped with larger bills, hundreds of dollars in tuition increases even as family budgets have tightened.

Tuition is going up between 8 percent and 10 percent at all four-year campuses and two-year community colleges, under a newly passed law that allows the fee hikes in exchange for promises of improved performance.

College leaders have said the tuition increases are needed to help offset more than $250 million in cuts that have stripped state funding from the campuses in the last two years and to cope with another $300 million in reductions expected to be levied upon them in a year. They also note that Louisiana schools charge less than colleges and universities across the South.

Shikinley Mitchell, a 22-year-old senior at Southern University, said students are paying more, but getting less as colleges cut offerings, reduce services and lay off teachers.

‘‘They’re still cutting classes. There’s no difference. There’s no better programs. There’s no new equipment. There’s nothing to show where the extra money is going,’’ Mitchell said.

LSU student Mattelynn Franklin agreed, saying while she understands the need for higher tuition rates, the university is cutting valuable programs and staff and wasting money on midlevel bureaucrats and administrators.

‘‘I don’t mind tuition increases because Louisiana has one of the cheapest schools as far as the flagship schools, but we need to get something good out of it,’’ said Franklin, a 20-year-old junior majoring in business administration.

With the passage of the Louisiana GRAD Act in the recently ended legislative session, the tuition increases will raise more than $60 million for schools this year. Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, called the tuition hike authority ‘‘a lifeline to our colleges and universities in this state.’’

To get the increases, the schools have to agree to work on performance improvements, like increasing admission standards, improving graduation rates and boosting efforts to get students jobs.

Schools enter voluntary six-year agreements with the Board of Regents, which governs public higher education in Louisiana. They’ll have to start showing demonstrated progress on the performance benchmarks by the 2012-13 school year or lose the tuition increases.

Meg Casper, a spokeswoman for Regents, said no campus has a finished performance agreement with the board, but she said the work on those should be completed this month, as the tuition increases begin for students.

At four-year schools, the boosted costs range from a $324 annual increase at Southern University-New Orleans to $537 a year more at LSU’s flagship campus in Baton Rouge. Tuition for a full-time undergraduate student at SUNO is $3,488, and that cost is $5,770 at LSU.

At community colleges, the tuition hike varies from $164 at SOWELA Technical Community College in Lake Charles, where a full-time student pays $1,758 annually, to $215 at Delgado Community College in New Orleans, where it costs $2,317 a year.

For thousands of students like Franklin, the tuition increase won’t come out of their own pockets because they get free college tuition from the state through the TOPS scholarship program. A majority of undergraduates at LSU are on TOPS scholarships.

Meanwhile, Mitchell, a mass communications major, said she has to take out an extra student loan to pay the costs of her increased tuition at Southern.

While she receives some federal grant money, Mitchell said that didn’t cover her costs and she’s borrowed money to pay for college. She said her father can’t afford to help her because he is saddled with doctors’ bills for her mother, who had two strokes and can no longer work.

More troubling for Mitchell, she said the budget cuts that are shrinking class offerings likely will force her to stay in school an extra semester to get all the courses she needs, ‘‘which is more tuition, which is another loan,’’ she said.

And the costs are only expected to continue rising for students.

Schools meeting the performance requirements under the GRAD Act can raise their tuition by up to 10 percent a year until they reach the average of similar schools in the South, or for LSU the average of state flagship schools around the country. After that, schools can increase tuition up to 5 percent a year or an amount equal to the growth in a national higher education price index, whichever is greater.

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