The Louisiana House will debate a proposal that allows public colleges to hike their tuition costs for students if the schools improve their performance, after the House budget panel advanced the idea Monday.


The Louisiana House will debate a proposal that allows public colleges to hike their tuition costs for students if the schools improve their performance, after the House budget panel advanced the idea Monday.
Approval from the House Appropriations Committee came only after lawmakers further tightened requirements and gave higher education leaders a tongue-lashing about being uncooperative in providing budget information.
"This committee is totally frustrated for three years now of higher education and the Board of Regents not providing the information we request in a timely manner," said Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, chairman of the committee. He added, "I hope today starts a new turning point."
Committee members accused higher education officials of trying to circumvent the scrutiny of the House by negotiating more closely with the Senate on funding issues.
Commissioner of Higher Education Sally Clausen acknowledged there has been "miscommunication," but she said college and university chiefs were trying to be upfront with lawmakers. "It has never ever been our intention to be in any way dishonest," Clausen said.
The exchange in Monday's committee hearing illustrated the tough road to final passage faced by the tuition increase bill, called the Louisiana GRAD Act. That is particularly true in the House, where lawmakers have repeatedly complained that colleges didn't properly invest the dollars they had received in the past decade when state coffers were flush and millions were poured into the university systems.
The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Jim Tucker and backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, would require support from two-thirds of the House and Senate before it could reach Jindal's desk.
Lawmakers questioned how the proposal would boost costs in the state's free college scholarship program called TOPS and worried about higher costs for students.
"I want to make sure we don't get out of control with this," said Rep. Mack "Bodi" White, R-Central.
The measure would let schools substantially raise what they charge students - up to 10 percent a year for six years - if the colleges meet certain performance standards.
Colleges would have to increase admission standards, improve graduation rates, eliminate programs with few graduates and improve their efforts in getting students into jobs. Remedial classes would disappear at four-year schools, along with most associate degree programs, in an effort to steer students to less expensive community colleges. Online courses would be expanded.
In exchange, schools could raise their tuition by up to 10 percent a year until they reach the average of similar schools in the South. LSU could boost its tuition up to 10 percent a year until it reaches the average of state flagship schools around the country. After that, officials could boost tuition by up to 5 percent annually or an amount equal to the growth in a national higher education price index, whichever is greater.
Tuition increases could begin in the 2012-13 school year, Tucker said.
Schools would have to make some of those improvements before they could even begin to raise tuition. Some higher education chiefs and supporters of the bill have raised concerns that expecting better performance before the schools get any money to pour into those efforts could make it difficult to even get the tuition increases at all.
But Tucker, R-Terrytown, said he doesn't see lawmakers agreeing to give up their authority over tuition increases without colleges proving they intend to improve graduation and student retention rates.
Louisiana is the only state that requires a two-thirds vote of the state Legislature for a tuition increase. Lawmakers recently did give college governing boards the ability to raise tuition annually up to 5 percent, authority that runs out in 2011.