BATON ROUGE (AP) — A bid by Louisiana higher education leaders to boost charges on college students stalled Tuesday after facing resistance from House lawmakers who questioned if students and families could afford another fee hike.
Rep. Chris Broadwater shelved his fee increase bill in the House Education Committee, likely dooming the push for higher college student fees for the legislative session.
The proposal could have raised as much as $107 million a year for campuses that face budget cuts of up to $225 million in the coming fiscal year, on top of several years of multimillion-dollar reductions that have only been partially offset with tuition increases.
University leaders pitched the fee hike as a way to stave off deep cuts to campuses they say could harm educational offerings, shutter programs, force layoffs of faculty and staff and push some colleges to financial emergency status.
"I don't know that there's ever been a more appropriate time for this," Broadwater said. He described the idea as helping "to make sure we have a product that we can offer those students."
Lawmakers who have passed rounds of tuition increases in recent years bristled at bumping up student costs again.
"Rather than ever talking about appropriating more money for you, we talk about putting more on our kids and our families," Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, told the state's commissioner of higher education. "That's the problem I have."
Edwards and Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, said that as lawmakers continued to increase tuition, more state money for the schools has been siphoned away. They questioned if approving a fee increase would just give the administration and the Legislature an excuse to back out more state financing — in essence, shifting costs to students and families.
Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell confirmed as much, acknowledging it would be a "stabilization fee" to keep institutions near their current level of funding.
"We've got to make some improvement in our support for higher education in this state," he said.
Broadwater, R-Hammond, proposed a fee of up to $25 per student credit hour. The college could decide whether to levy the entire fee, part of it or none at all.
"My intent was to allow them to determine what their market can bear," Broadwater said.
The way the proposal was structured would keep the student cost hike from being covered by the state's free college tuition program called TOPS. That would keep the adjustment from costing the state and mean students and their parents would have to pay for the increase.
"This is a hard pill to swallow," said Rep. Patrick Jefferson, D-Homer. He told Purcell, "Convince us resoundingly that this is where we need to go with all of the challenges our students are currently facing."
Realizing he didn't have enough support to get the bill out of committee, Broadwater agreed to scrap the proposal without a vote. Even if it got out of committee, it would have required a hefty two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate for passage.