Nicholls president targets cost of college

THIBODAUX, La. (AP) — Nicholls State University President Bruce Murphy said Nicholls must do something to address the high cost of attending college.
The Daily Comet reported (http://bit.ly/1uXyeCC) that during the semester that begins Monday, in-state students will pay $3,617 in tuition and fees, a 13 percent increase from last year. Graduating students last year owed an average of $30,069, higher than the nationwide average of $29,400, according to a national study.
"I know students are suffering financially. We're going to look for ways to move forward," Murphy told faculty and Thibodaux city officials during his State of the University address this past week.
"We are a pretty good deal if you look nationwide. Unfortunately, we're not a pretty good deal in the state of Louisiana. Our tuition and fees are one of the highest in the state. I want to change that," Murphy said.
Murphy said he is optimistic Nicholls is becoming a better school.
For the first time in six years, the Legislature didn't cut higher-education funding and approved a plan to allow colleges to keep revenue from tuition increases.
"That puts us in a better position than we've been in the last five or six years," Murphy said.
Murphy said he hopes the hiring of a new team of administrators will help in crafting a strategic plan to increase revenue-generating programs such as Nicholls Online, with the goal of expanding enrollment outside the campus.
"We think we have a market for more online students, so we're trying to make (online) robust enough to attract those people," he added.
That could help enrollment that's expected to drop this year, in part because of stricter admission requirements.
The university expects about 6,300 students to enroll for fall classes, down slightly from last fall's 6,540, according to spokeswoman Nikki Buskey.
A possible offset to declining enrollment will be the opening of the John Folse Culinary Institute later this year. Murphy said the university hopes to add 200 students to the culinary program by fall 2015.
Over the past three decades, Nicholls has leaned heavily on tuition and course fees.
In 2009, the university received 60.6 percent of its money from the state budget. Last year, Nicholls received less than 30 percent. The difference has been made up in reductions of faculty and staff, course offerings and tuition increases — about 10 percent each year since 2010.
There are some bright spots in the financial picture.
The university has set a record of more than $1 million in research grants from the state Board of Regents. Nicholls usually receives around $350,000 annually.
The grants will pay for 14 projects, including oil-spill research, high-tech scientific equipment, classwork and undergraduate research opportunities.
Murphy also said faculty members will get a 1 percent salary supplement this year. Nicholls eliminated about 100 positions during the past four years then placed a freeze on hiring of nonessential personnel.

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