ULS President Randy Moffett emphasizes the importance of allowing universities to set their own tuitions.

Dear Editor,

In a recent article in the Baton Rouge Business Report, the leader of a Louisiana Fortune 500 company decried the state’s lack of investment in higher education, citing its impact on business.

“It’s difficult to grow without continuing investment in the highest priority, education. It’s hard to ask people to design a nuclear power plant who haven’t graduated from college. We need that resource to grow in the state of Louisiana,” said Jim Bernhard, President and CEO of The Shaw Group.

With $290 million slashed from higher education over the last two years and another $289 million cliff looming in 2012 when federal stimulus dollars go away, Louisiana’s schools look to be short $579 million. That’s almost 40 percent less state funding than colleges and universities had on July 1, 2008, which was the first time in three decades Louisiana reached the regional average in funding.

As currently forecast, getting to those reductions will be painful. Although our campuses continue to plan for the bleakest of scenarios, continued reductions may impede us from offering top quality higher education and directly impact Louisiana’s workforce.

In the University of Louisiana System, our eight universities have already laid off 465 people, cut 600 positions and furloughed 800 employees. We’ve also cut programs, grown online courses, established cost-savings practices and reduced spending. We are now facing choices that may negatively impact the performance of our universities and the ability for many students to complete their undergraduate and graduate degrees.

So what is the solution? The answer is simple economics: let the consumer drive the price of higher education.

Louisiana is the only state in the country that requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise tuition. As a result, tuition rates at our colleges and universities have remained well below their peers even with modest authorized increases.

This fall Louisiana Tech University will charge $5,820 for tuition and fees, while peer institutions in Texas charge $7,070.  [From a different  letter: This fall Northwestern State University will charge $4,521 for tuition and fees, while peer institutions in Texas charge $6,174, Mississippi charge $5,100 and Arkansas charge $6,528.]

The limited revenue from tuition and fees has historically been subsidized by state appropriations. Now facing the reality of deteriorating state resources, if higher education is to survive we must gain the ability to charge competitively. The Louisiana GRAD Act as proposed by Governor Jindal is one approach to this dilemma. It seeks to provide higher education the needed tuition relief in exchange for performance. We have been and continue to be proponents of measuring performance and accountability.

Colleges and universities are economic engines. An independent study published last year revealed Louisiana Tech University has an annual economic impact of $462 million. In addition to their primary mission of teaching and degree completion, universities generate jobs, support business and grow Louisiana’s economy. Close a university and the surrounding community will be devastated. Continue cutting into higher education, and Louisiana’s economy will certainly suffer for years to come.

Randy Moffett, President
University of Louisiana System

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