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Sunday, May 26, 2019

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Louisiana college leaders seek $172M budget boost next year

Louisiana college leaders seek $172M budget boost next year

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — After absorbing nearly a decade of cuts and receiving flat funding this year, Louisiana's top higher education board voted last week to ask the governor and lawmakers for a $172 million increase for public colleges next year.

The request from the Board of Regents would bump up general state funds for higher education to $1.2 billion in the 2019-20 budget year that begins July 1.

Higher education leaders, meeting at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, framed the financing boost as a way to reinvest in campuses that have struggled through cuts and to help students afford college after years of tuition and fee hikes that partially offset the slashing.

With the proposal, "Louisiana can improve affordability and reduce student debt," Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said in a statement. "This is how we, as a state, will move from poverty to prosperity long-term."

Lawmakers will consider the funding request in the next regular session that starts in April. The proposal will compete with a multimillion-dollar effort favored by Gov. John Bel Edwards to give K-12 teachers and support staff a pay raise.

Under the Regents proposal for college campuses, the new money would be directed to need-based aid for students through the GO Grant program, faculty pay raises, e-textbooks and increased spending on the TOPS tuition program. A significant portion of the money, according to the plan, would be spread across campuses to keep schools from raising fees next year.

Amid years of state financing cuts, public colleges raised tuition and fees at rates that outpaced the nation.

The Regents said charges on students increased 107 percent over the last 11 years. Louisiana's average in-state tuition and fees at a public four-year college in 2017 represented 19.4 percent of a family's median income, compared to 16.5 percent nationally, according to the Regents. For black families in Louisiana, tuition and fees account for 31.7 percent of median household income.

Louisiana covers the cost of tuition through TOPS for students who meet certain course requirements, grade point averages and standardized testing benchmarks. But the program doesn't cover fees, and many students don't reach the criteria to qualify for TOPS aid.


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