GRAD Act allows for tuition increase

July 16, 2010

by Patricia Malek

Louisiana House Bill 1171, the Granting Resources and Autonomy for Diplomas Act, became law June 29. This law, now known as Act 741, gives Louisiana colleges and universities the right to raise tuition and mandatory fees without a two-thirds approval of the Legislature. It also grants them the ability to self-govern, to have more autonomy, in operational spending.

However, the GRAD Act includes conditions for these new freedoms. Louisiana colleges and universities must sign a six-year agreement to meet performance criteria set by the Louisiana Board of Regents in order to continue receiving this limited tuition and spending autonomy.

Joseph Thomas, vice president for financial affairs, said the details of GRAD Act monitoring policies and procedures are still being determined, but he said a tuition increase would probably take effect soon.

“Any adjustments will likely begin in the fall,” Thomas said. “We are rolling this out for the first time. It has a lot of components.”

Colleges and universities that have committed to meeting GRAD Act performance criteria are allowed to raise tuition rates by 5 percent for the 2010-2011 academic year, by another 5 percent for 2011-2012 and by 10 percent for subsequent years until the average tuition rate for peer universities is reached.

In order to retain this autonomy, the GRAD Act colleges and universities must meet targeted performance objectives in the areas of student success, articulation and transfer, workforce and economic development and institutional efficiency and accountability.

Emily LaFleur, Student Government Association president, said the new law is good for Tech.

“The GRAD Act is the most beneficial thing the Louisiana legislation has done for Tech as of late,” LaFleur said. “It is giving credit to schools that are doing great jobs, and Tech excels in the fact that we are meeting the performance standards set by the Board of Regents. We are already there, practically a model university, according to the performance criteria.”

The new law also states the formula funding by which the Board of Regents decides how much of the annual budget goes to individual colleges and universities will be correlated with GRAD Act performance objectives.

Colleges and universities will lose some or all of the 25 percent of their annual budgets which is based upon performance if they fail to meet the goals set by the Board of Regents in the new law.

The GRAD Act requires a legislative auditor monitor adherence to the conditions of the agreement. With its 85 percent graduation rate, Tech has already exceeded one targeted requirement under the first of the Board of Regents’ performance objectives – student success.

LaFleur said the changes brought about by GRAD Act are necessary, even if it means some programs and degrees will be cut.

“We are out of time in our state now in that we have to do something,” LaFleur said. “You cannot continue to fund programs when there is no funding. It is across the board, and everyone is having to cut somewhere.”

Kristen McClain, a junior early childhood major, said she opposes the law.

“I do not like to hear that because tuition is already so much, and your school, and your fees and your books; it is just outrageous,” McClain said. “Yeah, you have scholarships, but they usually do not cover everything. That just means more loans.”

McClain said she does understand tuition increases are sometimes needed.

“I know that sometimes it is necessary for tuition to be raised, but I feel like you should have the two-thirds,” McClain said. “I do not think it should easy for schools to raise it. I feel like it should take a lot of thought, and it should be a big process.”

For students receiving Taylor Opportunity Program Scholarship awards, Guy Wales, director of public information and communications for the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance, said the tuition increases allowed by the GRAD Act would be absorbed by TOPS, at least for now.

“So long as the legislature appropriates sufficient funds for TOPS, it will absorb the resulting increase in tuition and allowable fees,” Wales said. “The act will not change the number of TOPS recipients nor the qualification requirements, so long as TOPS is fully funded by the legislature.”

The act mandates that students financially unable to handle the tuition increase will be able to apply for an exemption.

LaFleur said the possible higher tuition increase allowed by the GRAD Act seems necessary.

“It is reinvesting in our education,” she said. “It is making our degree worth something and helping Louisiana Tech continue excellence. It is truly a bitter reality, but we will prevail.”