The 2014 legislative session is over! And guess what? They did it again. Our legislators dropped the ball on maintaining funding for JSU.
In fall of 2013, President Meehan promised there would be no increase in tuition if the legislature gave JSU the same amount of money as it did this year.
The Education Trust Fund (ETF) will receive $134 million more than last year which has allowed the legislature to increase higher education funding by 1 percent. Sounds great, right? Well, maybe. However, not every higher education institution has the same needs.
While most universities self-insure, JSU and Athens State are the only two universities who participate in the Public Education Employees Health Insurance Program (PEEHIP). Other than JSU and Athens, PEEHIP mostly encompasses k-12 institutions.
Because of this program, JSU is able to provide exceptional health care plans at lower costs to its employees. This allows the university to attract quality faculty and staff at lower salary costs than self-insuring universities.
This year’s PEEHIP premiums increased, which increased the costs for all PEEHIP institutions. Because of this, the legislature chose to allocate more to k-12 institutions to cover their increased costs for PEEHIP... But guess who got left out? JSU.
Prior to spring break, the ETF budget included some additional funding toward JSU’s PEEHIP costs. However, university officials determined after the break there had been changes to the legislature’s agreements which left JSU out of the loop on PEEHIP funding.
The student government association and other university officials made attempts to reach our state senator, Del Marsh (R-Anniston) who is the President Pro Tempore of the State Senate (a.k.a. the most powerful man in the legislature). However, most students got a response placing the blame on U.S. President Barack Obama.
Moreover, Senator Marsh said he didn’t think it was the state’s obligation to pick up the costs (although they picked up the costs for k-12). One can assume this was reflective of the idea that ‘universities can charge tuition.’
Although Senator Marsh chose not to fight for the sole university in his district, we did receive some support from Jacksonville’s state representative K.L. Brown (R-Jacksonville) when he chose to break from the Republican caucus and voted ‘no’ on the final passage of the ETF budget. Unfortunately, Rep. Brown’s vote did not keep the budget from passing, but we should show some appreciation for his willingness to speak up for his district.
So where does that leave us? More importantly, where does that leave tuition? Well, once the governor signs the budget into law, the burden shifts to the JSU administration to figure out how to maintain quality education while keeping costs to students as low as possible.
Is an increase in tuition likely? It’s possible. However, I personally know President Meehan and university officials want to be able to keep their promise to the students, so it will be a last resort. If that last resort becomes reality, the blame is on those who had the power to keep it from happening in the first place: the Alabama legislature.
Another lesson learned in why state and local politics is important to college students. What happens in Montgomery is just as, if not more important as what happens in Washington; it’s just easier to blame the president, right?