Jindal plan grants more autonomy for higher ed

by Nathan Stubbs

Days after sparing state colleges from any further cuts in his newly proposed budget, Gov. Bobby Jindal today offered another olive branch of sorts to Higher Ed.

Days after sparing state colleges from any further cuts in his newly proposed budget, Gov. Bobby Jindal today offered another olive branch of sorts to higher ed. The governor scheduled a 10:30 a.m. press conference today to release a proposal called the Louisiana GRAD Act. Both The Advocate and the Times-Picayune report that the proposal would give colleges something they've been lobbying for - more control over their own tuition and fees - in exchange for entering into six-year performance agreements that would require they raise admission standards and eliminate programs with low completion rates, among other goals designed to up graduation rates.

Louisiana is now the only state in the nation that requires a two-thirds majority approval from the state legislature for colleges to raise tuition or fees. It's been a bone of contention for colleges, especially in light of the $250 million in budget cuts they've taken from the state over the past 14 months. State revenues aren't expected to pick up anytime soon. Next year, another $290 million in federal stimulus funds for colleges are scheduled to expire.

Update: Here's some statements from officials endorsing the proposal:

Dr. Joseph Savoie, President of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette: "I am pleased that the Governor is proposing such progressive legislation for higher education.  Greater autonomy, coupled with strong accountability, will encourage better results for students in Louisiana colleges and universities."

Bill Fenstermaker, Chairman of Blueprint Louisiana: "Blueprint Louisiana has consistently maintained that our higher education graduation rates are unacceptable and that we need to do a better job of aligning workforce needs with the missions of our higher education institutions. We applaud Governor Jindal for introducing this promising reform to give institutions more flexibility and autonomy. But more importantly, it's a roadmap to improve student outcomes and graduation rates."

LSU System President Dr. John Lombardi: "The Governor's plan for improving higher education, that matches increased authority for management boards and universities to increased standards for student performance, is a welcome innovation. Combined with the commitment to stabilize higher education funding reflected in the proposed budget for FY2010-11, this initiative creates a framework for Louisiana's higher education management boards and institutions to drive improvements in student achievement and success."

Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Sally Clausen: "This proposed legislation sends a clear signal to our campuses and universities that performance pays. Using accountability to leverage tuition assistance and operational autonomy is an excellent way to reinforce our primary goal to successfully educate more citizens in a cost efficient manner. We look forward to working with the Governor on this critical legislation."