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This item originally appeared in the June 24, 2004, issue of The Tech Talk.

By MEGAN SMITH

News Editor

A 4 percent operational fee increase for the fall was approved Friday by the Louisiana House of Representatives.

Surpassing the two-thirds majority needed, the University Operational Fee passed 87 to 13.

The increase passed 27 to 6 in the Senate last week.

This increase is in addition to the 3 percent tuition increase which was added to the summer quarter.

Joe Thomas, vice president for financial services, said all the supervisors, Board of Regents and the University of Louisiana System worked together because higher education was going to be affected by state budgetary shortfalls.

These increases come at a time when tuition across the nation is on the rise.

The proposal was started by Gov. Kathleen Blanco and her administration to prevent passing the estimated $18 million university funding expense on to taxpayers.

An estimated $17.7 million will be generated statewide from this fee increase.

Statewide generated funds are expected to help pay for the mandatory expenses like civil service merit pay raises and increased insurance premiums.

Thomas said because of the mandated costs, the money was needed to help higher education with those expenditures.

"[The legislation] did not want higher education to take a step backwards," Thomas said.

He said the money will be very useful in providing for the mandated expenses.

"This will cover a significant part of the cost," Thomas said. "It will not cover day-to-day operations but certainly will provide a great benefit and prevent a significant shortfall for higher education."

Catherine Heitman, the director of communications for the UL System, said the increase of the exact dollar amounts should be announced soon, but it has been estimated at $46 per quarter for Tech.

"Even with the 4 percent increase, Tech's tuition and fees are still 4 percent below the average of its regional peers," Heitman said.

This new 4 percent increase will not be covered by the Tuition Opportunity Program for Students.

The bill does provide a way to help those who cannot afford the increase.

Students may be eligible for waiver if they meet the criteria for financial hardship, a clause provided in the bill by the legislation.

Kimberly Ludwig, president of the Student Government Association and a senior business management and entrepreneurship major, said, "I feel that it was something that needed to be passed."

Ludwig said the increase could have been more because the deficit started at the $40 million mark.

"This is something I would not like to see happen, but it is necessary in order to keep the educational opportunity students receive here," Ludwig said.

Ludwig said she met with the Commissioner of Higher Education and was told the increase was necessary to keep up with the progress Louisiana colleges and universities have already made.

"Louisiana has always been on the bottom rung in education," Ludwig said. "This will help allow the university to continue its progress."

Thomas said educational progress is very important to the university.

"One of the things we have done in Louisiana is move higher education forward for the past successive years," Thomas said. "We are trying to provide even better access for students to technology and prepare them for business, graduate studies or the professional world."

Thomas said this increase should generate about $1.5 million for the university.

The increase, for now, is set to be present on the fall, winter and spring quarter fee sheets, but it can not be said for certain whether there will be any more increases.

"Students directly benefit from the progress Tech makes," Thomas said.

Caleb Baumgardner, a junior English major, said he does not think the increase is too much to ask of students.

"Something people do not realize is most of the time when they have to pay more for something they usually get something better out of it," Baumgardner said. "If the money went to maintenance then it would help Tech run more efficiently."

Baumgardner said he would like to see some of the money go to fixing the dorms.

Tomorrow the presidents of the UL System will meet in Baton Rogue to make a final decision about the increase and to discuss ways to better communicate the increase to students.


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