According to Higher Education Commissioner Kim Hunter Reed, students attending community colleges in Louisiana are paying more than the regional and national averages.
Louisiana students pay 21.1 percent of their income when enrolled in state community colleges, whereas students in the same group attending school in other Southern states pay 17 percent of their income, according to data from the Southern Regional Education Board.
“The bottom line is this: If you can’t afford it you can’t achieve it,” Reed told the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “When your point of entry is not affordable it is a real challenge in a state where we need to increase those credentials.”
Community colleges have long been known as an affordable way for students to get a postsecondary education, even if they do not choose to attend a four-year school post-graduation.
Yet, higher ed institutions have had a significant change in state support in the past decade compared to the costs of tuition and fees paid by students.
In the 2015-16 school year, 64 percent of revenue at two-year institutions was composed by tuition fees, compared to 37 percent in 2005-06.
The board that monitors community colleges in Louisiana went six years without raising tuition and maintained the same cost for student fees for three years, Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System told The Advocate.
“We have been sensitive to this issue for some time,” Sullivan said.
One way to address college affordability is to make sure that students take advantage of all types of financial assistance that can help them fulfill their degree requirements, Reed said.
Recent data has found that the state spends less than average for need-based aid that includes a lot of community college students, in comparison to merit-based student assistance. Louisiana, on average, spend $161 for need-based aid, compared to an average of $343 in the region and $376 throughout the country.
“The question is how do we make sure we have more resources so we can stop the increases in tuition and fees,” Reed said. “We can stop that by trying to make sure we are addressing unfunded mandates and faculty increase,” for example.
“So there are a number of ways to try to think about it,” Reed added. “My point is we have to think about it. The result of this report is we are moving in the wrong direction.”