BATON ROUGE – 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.
“The rising cost of college risks blocking one of America’s most important paths to economic mobility. And while these costs hinder progress for everyone, Black and Hispanic students continue to face the most significant barriers to opportunity,” said Michael Mitchell, senior policy analyst at CBPP and lead author of the report.
Louisiana cut more state funding from higher education than any other state, on a per-pupil basis, since the 2008 start of the Great Recession. To make up for those cuts, Louisiana more than doubled the tuition it charges students – a 105 percent increase that is also the nation’s largest.
This massive shift in the burden of paying for higher education has affected families at all economic levels, but has been especially tough on students from low-income backgrounds, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college.
This is a problem that Louisiana can solve. First, by reinvesting in higher education at all levels. While funding for higher education has stabilized after years of erosion, the Legislature needs to replace the money that’s been cut.
Second, by re-prioritizing student aid programs to ensure that low-income families get more assistance. Louisiana has a generous merit-based program, TOPS, that helps many undergraduates avoid heavy debt burdens upon graduation. But the GO Grants program, which provides need-based support for students who qualify for federal Pell Grants, has been chronically underfunded.
While the $28.4 million allocation to GO Grants for the 2018-19 school year is an all-time high, it is only $2.4 million more than what was allocated during the 2008-09 school year.
“Year after year TOPS is put on a pedestal and prioritized by lawmakers, even in dire financial times,” said Davante Lewis, public affairs and outreach coordinator for the Louisiana Budget Project. “But funding for GO Grants has been mostly flat, even as student financial needs have increased. This is unacceptable.”