Editorial: Those closest to colleges should decide tuition

Louisiana’s state universities ought to control what they charge students for tuition.

Jim Purcell, state commissioner of

Higher Education, made that pitch before state lawmakers in Baton Rouge

this week, but

met a tepid response. Higher education will face an uphill

struggle in making that case before the full Legislature come April,

but it ought to try.

Only in Louisiana do lawmakers have such imposing control over college tuition. What do other states know that we don’t?

They likely know lawmakers lack the political will to charge consumers a reasonable price for a college degree when those

consumers vote. They likely know lawmakers will not limit the number of state campuses to what the state can afford. Thus,

Louisiana has too many four-year campuses in a state where public campus tuition is second-lowest in the Southeast. Wonder

why we struggle with funding higher ed?

Louisiana is not the only state grappling with tuition. Tuition increased 4.8 percent around the country last year, which

outpaces the rise in the cost of living.

Within limits, tuition was raised in

Louisiana, too, but not nearly enough to offset cuts the state has made

of late to higher

education budgets. Purcell told lawmakers that while state

campuses reaped about $331 million in additional tuition money

over the past four years, the state cut $625 million from the

higher education budgets. Because of constitutional restrictions,

higher education is in the unenviable position of being one of two

spending areas in which the state is allowed to cut its

budget. So what is a campus to do?

One thing is to set its own tuition,

charging students tuition that more accurately reflects the cost of

educating students.

For example, for college majors that cost more to offer and where

graduates on average earn more pay, campuses should charge

more. Campus administrators themselves — they are closer to the

numbers and have oversight from state boards — ought to impose

reasonable tuition based on that knowledge.

Important, too, is that tuition should

be set such that students understand and appreciate the value of their

degree. The

Governor’s Office reports that graduation has risen to 46 percent

since 2008, up 4 percent. That’s far too many students that

fail to complete. Set the tuition bar higher, and some students

who are academically unprepared for college or unwilling to

work hard in college may never start.

College administrators at state

universities are unlikely to price their campuses beyond the reach of

Louisiana students.

Charge too much at McNeese State, for example, and students may bolt for

Lafayette or Beaumont, Texas for attractive college options.

Better to reject central government control in Baton Rouge, and let those closest to the colleges decide tuition.

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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, Ken Stickney,

Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.