Higher education is one of our country’s most reliable drivers of economic mobility, but for years Louisiana has been shifting the burden of paying for that education onto the shoulders of students and their families. The state’s disinvestment in funding for public colleges and universities has left low- and moderate-income students struggling with higher debt upon graduation, and facing more difficulty affording the education that would give them an economic boost. A new study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that the cost burdens of college are even greater for Black and Hispanic families than for their white counterparts. In Louisiana, this effect is particularly pronounced:
Black and Hispanic families in Louisiana have been disproportionately affected by a decade of cuts in state support for higher education, and the substantial tuition increases that have occurred as a result. Average tuition and fees at a public four-year university accounted for 32 percent of median household income for Black families in Louisiana and 23 percent for Hispanic families in 2017, according to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. This compares to 16 percent of median household income for white families. Only six other states charge more for tuition and fees than Louisiana, when measured as a share of median income for Black households.
In a new analysis of the state’s financial aid programs LBP’s Davante Lewis explains that Louisiana’s decisions about how to allocate student financial aid exacerbate these disparities. While state funding for the merit-based Taylor Opportunity Program for Students covers every graduating high-school student who qualifies, regardless of their financial need, the Go Grants program that serves poorer students and non-traditional students has a funding cap well below the financial need of those who qualify:
Go Grants are a wise investment that help students with financial need access higher education. But the program is chronically underfunded. In 2017 the Board of Regents estimated that an additional $135 million would be needed to fully fund Go Grants. The lack of adequate investment in Go Grants means many students who are eligible don’t receive an award or receive a reduced award. As a result, many may not enroll at all due to the cost and lack of adequate aid.
College students are not who we think they are
While state budget decisions have forced more college students and their families to cover the bulk of college costs themselves, the composition of the college student population has changed. A new report by Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield, Rosa García, Lauren Walizer and Carrie Welton with the Center on Law and Social Policy points out that “non-traditional” students now outnumber traditional students 2-to-1. As student population has changed, so have the barriers to achievement that students face. Our approach to college aid hasn’t kept up with these shifts:
Today’s college students are increasingly low-income, working adults balancing work, family, and school. These students are also more likely to be first-generation attenders, immigrants, and students of color pursuing dreams of better jobs, higher incomes, and more stability for their families. State higher education policies, however, have not adapted to this new reality. The existing system often fails adult students since only two in five students who begin at a public two-year college earn a certificate or an associate or bachelor’s degree within six years. What these students lack is access to essential supports such as high-quality advising, flexible financial aid, and child care subsidies that can help them complete their education.
Some colleges, however, have recognized this trend, and have begun to change their approaches to student services. Inside Higher-Ed’s Ashley A. Smith reports on a growing trend among colleges to see basic needs assistance as a critical part of the services they provide to their students. Texas’s Amarillo College offers one example of a community college that has increased students’ academic success by addressing non-academic barriers to their education:
“Our job is not to fix students, it’s to fix ourselves,” said Amarillo College president Russell Lowery-Hart. “At Amarillo, we’ve adopted a no-excuses philosophy. No matter what is causing our students to taste failure, they are not responsible for it. We are.” Once Amarillo started connecting students to the services they needed — childcare, legal services, housing, transportation, emergency aid to pay for utilities — they found those students were more likely to continue their education at the college instead of dropping out. Of the 86 percent of Amarillo students who received services through the college’s Advocacy and Resource Center, 69 percent continued their education at the college. Only 33 percent of the students who did not receive services through the center remained at the college, according to the college’s data.
New Orleans hospitality workers demand a fair share
Tourism and hospitality have long been drivers of the New Orleans economy, but are also among the city’s lowest paying industries. According to the Data Center’s Prosperity Index:
With more than 15,000 jobs, tourism is the largest traded or “export” cluster in New Orleans, but with average wages, including tips, of only $34,220 and a workforce that is 50 percent black and 8 percent Hispanic, it is not providing family-sustaining wages to many families in New Orleans. Performing arts is similar in wages and workforce, albeit with only 2,330 jobs. The “hospitality” cluster (which includes fast food and full service restaurants), with nearly 29,000 jobs in New Orleans, average wages of $22,069 including tips, and a workforce that is 51 percent white, is also not providing family-sustaining wages to many families in New Orleans.
Now, service industry workers are demanding a fair share of the dollars they generate. The Gambit’s Alex Woodward reports on their advocacy for “sustainable tourism”:
Workers and culture groups and New Orleans’ service industry union are asking city officials to work towards a “sustainable tourism” model for the city’s largest economic driver, one that ensures better wages, health care, fair scheduling and workplace protections from sexual harassment and wage theft. Gabriel Bolden, chapter vice president for UNITE HERE Local 23 and an employee of the unionized Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, said she’s fortunate to have a union job with fair wages and a comprehensive health care plan, “but many people in the hospitality and restaurant industry do not have that privilege. Our people deserve the right to health care, respect and a fair living wage,” she said. A proposal also calls for an improved affordable public transit service that links workers to employment, including the city’s hospitals and downtown restaurants and hotels.
Trump tariffs are trouble for soy farmers
Louisiana farmers get more from soybeans than from any other crop: $655 million in 2017 – 39 percent of the value of the state’s non-sugar field crops. But a wet spring leading to massive losses in the fields, combined with the Trump administration’s tariffs have created a crisis for the state’s soy farmers. The Monroe News Star’s Greg Hilburn reports that the tariff relief passed by Congress, which only covers crops that are actually sold, can’t help farmers whose produce sits damaged in the field:
Soybeans from the Midwest that were being shipped to West Coast ports and destined for China are now being barged down the Mississippi River and parked in Louisiana ports and elevators. That’s left little to no room or markets for Louisiana soybeans that were damaged by an unusually wet September. “We have no home for our soybeans,” said Acadiana producer Richard Fontentot, who is also a vice president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation. “They’re only taking the least damaged beans, and I don’t have a single bushel I can ship or sell.”
*Note* LBP is collecting stories about the impact of Medicaid and Medicaid expansion on Louisianans’ access to health care services. If you have a personal story to share, or if you work with Medicaid patients who would like to share their story, please reach out to Caroline Gilchrist via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 225-573-9996.
Number of the Day:
105.4 – Percentage increase in the average tuition at a public four-year college in Louisiana between 2008 and 2018, the largest increase in the nation. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)