Fee increases at Louisiana colleges, universities add thousands to cost of higher education

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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.

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