Reinvesting in higher education

Reinvesting in higher education

In the decade since 2008, higher education in most states has faced massive budget cuts, leaving  students and families to cover the costs that used to be shared across society. In Louisiana, this increase amounted to a 106.9% rise in tuition over the 10 year period from 2008 to 2018—$4,810 per student at the state’s four-year public universities. A new report by Michael Mitchell, Michael Leachman, and Matt Saenz of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains why this matters: 

Rising tuition threatens affordability and access, leaving many students and their families – including those whose annual wages have stagnated or fallen over recent decades – either saddled with onerous debt or unable to afford college altogether. This is especially true for students of color (who have historically faced large barriers to attending college), low-income students, and students from non-traditional backgrounds.

In recent years, Louisiana has stabilized state funding for the state’s colleges and universities, but reinvestment is vital. The Board of Regents’ recent budget request of $156 million provides a path forward. Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press has more:

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.


Utah’s dangerous Medicaid experiment
Utah has joined several other states in trying to limit access to healthcare for those who can least afford it. A recent waiver approved by the federal government allows the state to shut off enrollment “should projected costs for the group exceed annual state appropriations.” This counterproductive policy will actually increase the state’s healthcare costs through a lower federal match rate, and also could discourage people from changing jobs or adding work hours for fear of losing  coverage. Cindy Mann, writing for The Commonwealth Fund, explains: 

Enrollment caps are often described as setting up “first-come, first-served” coverage, but the reality is more complicated. People enrolled in Medicaid may lose coverage during a year for many reasons — rising income because of a new job or overtime, a change in family circumstances, or not completing paperwork. Not infrequently, the situation changes again — the new job is temporary, the overtime pay ends, paperwork is completed. When that happens, under normal rules people would regain coverage, a phenomenon known as “churning.” But, if enrollment is closed, they cannot regain coverage. 

Utah’s waiver should serve as a warning for Louisiana, where businessman Eddie Rispone has promised to “freeze” Medicaid expansion enrollment if elected governor. LBP Executive Director Jan Moller explains the potential harm of a freeze. 


Health insurance rates rise
The cost of health insurance plans available in Louisiana on the marketplace will go up 10% in 2020 in contrast to national trends. Kristen Mosbrucker of The Advocate explains the longer term trends and highlights a state investment that could help lower premiums: 

Frank Opelka, Louisiana’s deputy commissioner for life, health and annuity, said one reason the state is bucking the national trend is that most states had an increase between 2018 and 2019 when Louisiana saw a 6.4% drop. Opelka also noted that some states adopted reinsurance programs targeted to reduce the individual market premiums;  Louisiana did not. Legislation to establish a reinsurance program in Louisiana failed in 2018 after criticism from business owners that it would add another tax in the form of a fee businesses would pay toward a larger pool of money. 


Disparities in Baton Rouge public schools
A new report by the Urban League of Louisiana finds that the East Baton Rouge Parish School System systematically excludes economically disadvantaged students and students of color from rigorous, high-quality curricula and instruction and from environments that encourage learning. While Baton Rouge is home to some of the highest performing schools in the state, too many black and Latinx students and students with disabilities, from low-income families, and who speak English as a second language are excluded from the advantages those schools offer. Charles Lussier of The Advocate has the highlights: 

Here are some of the gaps highlighted: Low rates of mastery in core academic subjects compared with more “advantaged” peers, particularly in third grade English, eighth grade math and in high school classes. Lower ACT scores compared with peers, which limits access to college and dual enrollment courses. Higher suspension rates and truancy. Lower graduation rates and higher dropout rates. Diplomas with fewer advanced courses and industry-recognized credentials.


The Census is hiring!
U.S. Census 2020 needs you. The decennial census is a crucial once-in-a-decade population count that helps determine how much federal money flows to Louisiana, and how communities will be represented at the local, state and federal level when political lines are redrawn. If you want to be part of ensuring a complete and accurate count – while earning a good wage – you can find out how to work for the U.S. Census Bureau here.


Number of the Day:
$6.6 billion– National reduction in state support for two- and four-year public colleges and universities from 2008 to 2018, after adjusting for inflation. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)