Fee Increases at La. Colleges Add Thousands to Cost of Higher Education
BATON ROUGE – Colleges and universities have increased fees charged to students as lawmakers cut state spending on higher education, adding thousands of dollars to the cost of getting a degree, according to a new Louisiana Legislative Auditor report.
Higher education leaders have talked for years about how Louisiana has shifted costs from state taxpayers as a whole to students. The LLA’s report helps put that shift into context.
According to the Southern Regional Education Board’s data on its 16 member states, Louisiana ranked last for two-year institutions and second-to-last for four-year institutions for direct state support per student. For Louisiana’s public higher education institutions, direct state support decreased by 42.8%, from $6,062 per student in fiscal year 2010 to $3,467 in 2020.
At the same time, schools increased fees assessed on students by 154.6%, from an average of $1,168 per student in academic year 2009-2010 to $2,975 per student in 2019-2020, according to the LLA. Fee increases outpaced inflation by 113.5%.
Under the current cost structure, students starting college in 2019 will have to pay an additional $318.3 million in fees, or $6,247 per student, beyond what would be expected because of inflation to obtain a four-year degree, according to the LLA.
The cost of obtaining a four-year degree has increased by $35,069 (63.7%) from $55,013 for the graduating class of 2010 to $90,082 for the graduating class of 2020, the LLA estimated. The estimated cost of attendance to obtain a two-year degree has increased by $12,009 (45.6%) for the same time period, from $26,310 for the graduating class of 2010 to $38,319 for the class of 2020.
The LLA further estimated that only about one-third of Louisiana-resident students can cover the higher costs through family resources and financial aid. For those who cannot, the average gap for a four-year degree is about $23,537, about 20% of which can be attributed to the cost of fees growing faster than inflation.
As a result, Louisiana’s 2017-2018 graduates had an average student loan debt of $22,217 for four-year graduates and $13,759 for two-year graduates. These amounts were 0.4% and 27.4% above the respective averages for public institutions in SREB states, according to the LLA.
The Board of Regents, which oversees higher education in the state, has set a goal that 60% of the state’s working-age population will have a degree or high-value credential by 2030.
“To achieve this goal, higher education must be affordable and attainable for all Louisiana citizens,” according to a letter signed by Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed and the current leaders of the state’s four higher education systems.
The LLA report included two recommendations: The management boards of each system periodically should review all fees to determine whether they are still needed and should include a descriptive itemized list of fees on their websites. The higher ed leaders concurred with those suggestions, according to their response letters to the report.
By David Jacobs of the Center Square