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(Rick Hickman / American Press)

(Rick Hickman / American Press)

Editorial: State schools should have oversight over tuition they charge

Last Modified: Monday, April 01, 2013 11:02 AM

Battered by repeated budget cuts over the past five years, university presidents in Louisiana got a bit of good news last week when Gov. Bobby Jindal said he would support the state’s public universities having more control over tuition.

The governor added that the universities would have to accept higher performance standards and greater oversight.

In a prepared statement, Jindal said, ‘‘If higher education management boards are willing to accept performance standards and increased accountability from the Legislature in exchange for more tuition flexibility, we think that’s a good dynamic for our state, our students and our universities.’’

Greater latitude for university systems to raise tuition would help cushion some of the budget cut blows.

State Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, and state Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, plan to introduce legislation in the upcoming regular session that would tie more freedom for universities to raise tuition with improved results in student retention and graduation rates.

Appel said he would support more tuition flexibility only if lawmakers approved his performance standard bills.

Meanwhile, a battle appears to be brewing over whether the duty with setting tuition rests with state lawmakers or the state’s university management boards.

In 1995, voters approved a constitutional amendment that requires that a fee increase charged by a public agency must be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature. A year later, then Attorney General Richard Ieyoub issued an opinion that has been interpreted as tuition falls under the category of a fee.

Now members of the State Board of Regents say their considering a lawsuit challenging that opinion.

‘‘At the very least we’d like to have a determination letting us know whether the attorney general’s opinion is valid,’’ said LSU System President William Jenkins. ‘‘I’d certainly like to know.’’

New Orleans attorney Edward Markle, who was recently appointed to the Board of Regents, doesn’t agree with the opinion.

‘‘A fee is for a driver’s license or a speeding ticket,’’ he said. ‘‘Tuition is something you pay for yourself voluntarily. It’s not a fee you pay the government; you pay it to educate yourself.’’

Markle said more study on the issue, but fellow regent Albert Sam said there’s more urgency in answering the question. He said higher ed in Louisiana is currently like a patient who’s been shot several times and is on the brink of death.

Universities are suffering mightily with mid-year cuts coupled with budget reductions at the beginning of the fiscal year.

Credit Jindal for endorsing the idea of greater tuition flexibility. And it’s high time for the higher education management boards to determine who should have oversight over the tuition they charge.

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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, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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