BATON ROUGE, La.— Southern University System students in Louisiana will pay hundreds of dollars more a semester in the upcoming school year, to generate $4.2 million for campuses, under a package of fee hikes approved by the system governing board Thursday.
Fee increases on students are rankling lawmakers, who protected Louisiana’s colleges from budget cuts for the 2018-19 school year by renewing part of an expiring sales tax last month. The LSU System Board of Supervisors also voted last week to boost its student fees, to raise more than $14 million.
Baton Rouge Rep. Ted James, a Democrat and Southern University graduate, said lawmakers who supported the tax didn’t expect universities to still raise costs on students. He called it troubling.
“It pains me that we are having this less than three weeks after we voted” on taxes to spare colleges from cuts, James told the Southern board.
Southern University President-Chancellor Ray Belton said campuses lost millions in state financing over the last decade, even as mandated costs for health care, retirement and insurance continue to grow. Though Gov. John Bel Edwards and lawmakers haven’t cut state spending on higher education for the most recent two years, Belton said campuses are struggling.
“For the last few years, we’ve literally been in a survival mode,” Belton said. “These standstill budgets do not hold us whole.”
The fees are growing by 5 percent, with Thursday’s vote.
On Southern’s main campus in Baton Rouge, full-time undergraduate students will pay an additional $217 per semester. At Southern University at New Orleans, they’ll pay an extra $169 a semester. At the system’s law school, the fee hike will be $393 per semester. The system’s two-year campus in Shreveport will boost its per-semester fees for full-time students by $100.
A small slice of the increase will be used to increase need-based financial aid for students.
It took two votes to win the support required from nine of the board members to boost the fees. At first, the proposal fell one vote short, but after a recess board member Tony Clayton agreed to back the increases.
Board members said they want university leaders to work to create alternative revenue streams, so they won’t return to students over and over again to fill budget gaps. They worried about pricing students out of school or chasing them to other colleges, which would lessen campus revenue.
“We’re in a very competitive environment. We haven’t done the analysis to see what impact these fees are going to have,” said board member Leroy Davis of Baker.
Clayton, from Port Allen, also suggested Southern should consider cutting the salaries of its “heavily paid administrators” to help address budget woes.
“You guys have got to find a way to make some money here and stop automatically putting it on the backs of students,” he said.
Belton blamed lawmakers, saying the state has not invested properly in higher education.
“We have nothing else to cut. Ten years of budget reductions leave us bare,” he said.
Lawmakers have given Louisiana colleges and universities the ability to set and modify their own fees, within certain parameters, until mid-2020.