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Jindal to push tuition increases at colleges

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal said Monday that he’ll ask lawmakers to again boost college tuition and fee costs for students and to give schools more freedom from regulations governing purchasing and construction projects.

Jindal also is reviving a proposal to merge Louisiana’s five college management boards into one, after a similar measure failed last year.

The governor announced his legislative agenda at a meeting of the higher education boards and college system presidents. The ideas will be considered in the regular legislative session that begins April 25.

Jindal described the proposals as ways to help campuses offset cuts, give them more management flexibility and improve performance in a state where the six-year graduation rate is the second lowest in the South.

“Many of our performance measures and outcomes are still unacceptably low. We still have more work to do to serve our students to ensure they get a quality education,” he said.

LSU Chancellor Mike Martin said in a statement that Jindal offered “thoughtful initiatives that will set Louisiana on a long-term path to a high-performing higher education system.”

The proposals aren’t as far-reaching as some university leaders and supporters had wanted for fee hikes and removal from state regulations. Jindal also couldn’t say how much money the measures would raise, except to say it would be “tens of millions of dollars.”

More than $310 million in state funding, or about 18 percent, has been stripped from colleges in the last two years and more cuts are expected in the new fiscal year that begins July 1. College officials have eliminated low-participation programs, shrunk course offerings, and cut majors and student services.

Jindal’s chief of staff, Timmy Teepell, said the governor will propose a budget that keeps state funding cuts to higher education below 10 percent. That could mean a cut of up to $93 million, according to the Board of Regents.

The idea greeted most coolly by university leaders was the merger of the college boards. Louisiana currently has four university systems with separate management boards, and a fifth board, the Board of Regents, that oversees them all. A similar bill failed to even get out of committee last year, though it was sponsored by House Speaker Jim Tucker and backed by Jindal.

“The system you are working within is not designed for consistency or clarity,” Jindal told the members of the five different boards Monday. He said later, “We think more of these dollars should go into classrooms.”

Southern University System President Ronald Mason said he doesn’t think the management structure is the most pressing problem facing higher education. That’s a position echoed by several higher education leaders, who say a board merger wouldn’t improve the performance of schools and could absorb time and distract from other attempts to make improvements.

Among the tuition and fee proposals outlined Monday, Jindal said he’ll seek to:

—Standardize tuition at the state’s community colleges, increasing schools to the highest tuition charged at a community college today, at Louisiana Delta Community College in Monroe.

—Rework the way students are charged tuition. Currently, students pay a flat tuition rate for 12 hours per semester and above. Jindal wants to move that to 15 hours per semester, so students would pay for an additional three hours per semester before they hit the flat rate.

—Increase a previously enacted “operational fee” charged to students, so that the 4 percent fee rises as tuition rises each year.

State Sen. Lydia Jackson, D-Shreveport, called tuition increases a “tax on the aspirations of students.” But Mason called tuition and fee increases for students unavoidable because of budget reductions.

Those increases would come on top of tuition hikes already enacted that are boosting student costs by up to 10 percent a year for six years, through a law passed last year called the GRAD Act. In exchange, the schools had to agree to reach certain performance benchmarks to keep the tuition-raising authority annually.

The governor also proposed changes to what he called “red tape” for campuses, including allowing the schools to carry over self-generated dollars from year to year, giving them more freedom from state oversight in purchases and building projects and shrinking their civil service requirements.