Search This Blog


Legislature still acting unwisely on tuition control

Here we go again with the Louisiana Legislature missing again on something commonsensical that puts it out of step with the rest of the country to the detriment of the state’s people.

Last week, the House of Representatives turned back HB 418 by Rep. Barry Ivey that would have allowed the state’s four higher education management boards to set their own tuition, subject to some parameters. Currently, Louisiana is but one of two states that require legislative input into tuition hikes.

The bill would have limited increases to 10 percent annually and no more than 20 percent total over four years. Further, it would have exempted recipients of Taylor Opportunity Program for Scholars awards, meaning during the course of the award for a student that state taxpayers would not have to increase their effort to cover any rise in tuition.

Only as a cost-saving move for the public would that provision make much sense, because otherwise it’s entirely arbitrary: why should award recipients, who pay basically no money towards tuition anyway, deserve a break worth nothing to them compared to others taking the same courses? Still, even with this oddity, the bill had more merits than demerits simply because it gave colleges and universities greater control over use of their finances to achieve public purposes.

But it faced a rout on the House floor, losing 16-75, with the distinction between TOPS recipients and others apparently a major sticking point. This ended up worse than two years ago, when Ivey tried with HB 439 that lost out only 31-59. (Because it would represent a fee hike, two-thirds majorities would have to have passed each version.)

Perhaps the difference between now and then was in the interim state voters unwisely rejected a constitutional amendment that simply gave tuition-setting power to the boards without limits. But, as Ivey pointed out in debate, his more tightly-woven bill gave systems less discretion, in the hopes that this would dissuade representatives who saw the failed amendment as a referendum by the people on the issue regardless of the form of control given to higher education.

Regardless, if one could claim jacking up tuition on non-recipients as discriminatory, it didn’t make for a very good case. For those coming right out of high school, bluntly stated one has to do little more than fog a mirror to qualify for TOPS, with such subpar standards, so performing that poorly perhaps should earn someone a penalty in tuition costs relative to award recipients. That argument wouldn’t necessarily hold against nontraditional students, and it’s possible that schools could raise tuition higher than they would with a smaller pool to draw upon, meaning some students just as capable as others end up paying for both, in essence.

Yet even this interpretation is far-fetched, for two reasons. First, the bill did limit the size of hikes that boards could implement. And, market pressures do exist, meaning going too high, even if under the bill’s limits, would price some students out of the market or send them to alternatives that systems may not want to risk. Considering these factors, the “discrimination” argument just doesn’t fly.

Plus, it’s not like schools can’t find ways to increase revenues from students while avoiding legislative interference. At my university, a typical student on TOPS at 15 hours already pays over 21 percent out-of-pocket on fees, or about $776 a semester this year. That’s up from $545 representing the same proportion of tuition for this semester in 2013, and $494 or 28 percent this time in 2008. Schools have complete autonomy of fees, and nothing can keep them from sending that percentage of fees higher towards the proportion of a decade ago.

So, Louisiana’s lawmakers shoot the state in the foot again. Instead of bringing some rationality to revenue generation in the educational marketplace, they keep hamstringing higher education, presumably to hold themselves out as guardians of sorts keeping educators from exploiting youth. An under-educated population in part made that way as a result of restrictions placed upon higher education’s flexibility actually might buy that lame argument.

No comments: