Editorial: Higher education in need of funding

How the state of Louisiana continues to fund higher education in Louisiana continues to be maddening.

Since his election to his first

term in 2008, Gov. Bobby Jindal has cut $700 million in funding to state

colleges and universities.

Some of that gap has been made up by higher tuition charges to

students.

But one thing is clear: The

governor and state lawmakers can’t have it both ways, touting a higher

education system that prepares

students for high-paying jobs and as an elixir for the state’s

chronic poverty while failing to adequately fund these institutions.

Shackled by the state cuts, university presidents and higher education boards have pleaded for the past few years for greater

latitude in raising tuition. Those efforts have made little headway in the state Capitol.

University of Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley said given the political climate, fighting for more discretion on

tuition increases is a waste of time.

‘‘We do need financial relief,’’ she said. ‘‘(Funding) stability is our number one priority, but we need to focus on what

we can get done.’’

Southern University System President Ronald Mason agreed. He said his colleagues should focus more on ending the practice

of state lawmakers stripping state funding from institutions that corresponds with those institutions’ tuition increases,

leaving university and college presidents with a net zero funding increase.

‘‘What’s more important,’’ Mason told The Advocate of Baton Rouge, ‘‘is that we stabilize funding and be able to keep the

tuition we charge.’’

Woodley favors changes to the 2010 Louisiana Grad Act, which allows universities to raise tuition up to 10 percent annually

if they meet graduation and retention rates.

She said it is unfair to hold universities with a large population of low-income and non-traditional students to the same

graduation and retention standards as institutions with higher-achieving students.

Tuition flexibility is higher education’s top priority, said newly minted LSU System President King Alexander.

He should know. The state’s flagship university charges about 30 percent less in tuition than its peers.

Imagine the outcry if the budget for LSU’s football program was 30 percent less than Alabama’s or Georgia’s.

What higher education desperately needs right now is a champion for it in the state Legislature. It’s certainly not getting

much support from Jindal.

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, acknowledged after this past regular session that a stable source of income

needs to be located for higher education.

Saying it and finding it, though, are two different matters.

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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.