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Editorial: Public colleges losing more state funding

Last Modified: Friday, October 18, 2013 6:03 PM

Like the song says, “The times, they are a-changin.” The days when colleges and universities were for the most part funded by the state may be gone. The trend in Louisiana, and across the nation, is that state funding for public universities is plummeting while tuition costs are soaring ­— a change brought on largely by the recession which began in 2008.

In the not too distant past, Louisiana’s higher education institutions got 70 percent of their funding from the state. Now, from fiscal years 2008 to 2013, the state is spending 42 percent less on each college student, while tuition has increased 38 percent, according to data from Illinois State University’s annual Grapevine Report.

As the burden of funding college educations falls increasingly on students, more and more of them are finding it tough to afford.

On Oct. 10, state legislators and higher education administrators met in Baton Rouge as part of the state’s Tuition Task Force to talk about how to make things better.

The Task Force, the brainchild of state Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro, is a panel set up by the Legislature earlier this year to come up with college pricing recommendations.

“I realized the need to start driving the conversation about this,” Ortego said. “At what point do these universities become private universities that are being strapped down by public bureaucracy?”

Indeed, some university officials feel their hands are tied. State funding has been cut, and while tuition costs have been raised, the legislature has not given colleges and universities free reign on setting tuition rates.

At the five-hour meeting, State Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell talked about the need for tuition flexibility. If institutions could charge more for high-cost, high-demand programs, he said, and if they could charge students per credit hour, it would help. As it is now, students are only charged for the first 12 credit hours being taken each semester.

But earlier this year, both these ideas were shot down by state legislators.

If state spending is unlikely to be restored any time soon, talks about how our state allocates education funding and what colleges do with that funding will be increasingly necessary. The Task Force is a good start. Let the conversations continue.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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