Louisiana higher education board asks for $156M budget boost
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s top higher education board is asking lawmakers to increase spending on public college programs by nearly $156 million next year, to raise faculty pay, boost student aid and work toward new achievement goals.
The Board of Regents approved the budget request Wednesday at its meeting in Shreveport, saying the money is aimed at doubling the number of degrees and workforce credentials by 2030, as envisioned by the state’s updated higher education master plan.
“We can lift families out of poverty and increase Louisiana’s prosperity through strategic investments in education,” Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said in a statement. “Our commitment as a higher education community is to improve student success, innovation and affordability.”
The increased spending would lift general state financing for higher education by nearly 15%, to $1.2 billion in the budget year that begins July 1. Lawmakers will consider the request in the 2020 legislative session.
Among the new dollars sought, $18 million would cover increasing retirement and health insurance costs; $29 million would reward campuses that show improved student performance; and $36 million would cover pay hikes aimed at moving faculty salaries to the Southern regional average.
Other money would more than double Louisiana’s need-based aid program for students, called GO Grants, from $29 million to $63 million. Another $9 million would ensure the TOPS program covers full tuition for all eligible students.
Additional dollars would pay to help community colleges with their accreditation work, increase spending on university agricultural and research centers, pay for student access to e-textbooks and other items.
In August, the Board of Regents unanimously approved a rewritten master plan, striving for six in 10 working-age adults to hold a college degree or other employment credential beyond a high school diploma by 2030. Fewer than half of Louisiana’s adults aged 25 to 64 currently have achieved that benchmark.
To reach that goal, the master plan seeks to improve educational attainment for black students and get more adults back into the classroom to learn new skills. It proposes expanding the number of dual-enrollment, college credit courses available to high school students, boosting financial aid opportunities and increasing work-based learning programs that widen skills training availability.
All of those items cost money, and many of those proposals make up the heart of the request that will be submitted to Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Legislature.
Any increase would come on top of the $47 million boost in state spending on higher education enacted this year and will be competing against expected proposals to increase spending on early childhood and K-12 education programs.
The Regents also asked lawmakers to spend $150 million of the state’s $535 million surplus on building repairs and improvements on college campuses. The schools have a $1.5 billion backlog of deferred maintenance, according to the board.
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