Legislators support Troy in PACT debate

Published 8:57 pm Friday, August 13, 2010

Now that Troy University’s Board of Trustees voted to nullify its cap on tuition for the Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program students, the next step will be in getting the Alabama Legislature to do the same.

“We’ll try on several fronts to correct the legislation that we feel is penalizing to us,” said Troy University’s Director of Government Relations Marcus Paramore.

This move will come after the Alabama Legislature passed legislation at the end of its session requiring all universities except the University of Alabama and Auburn University to freeze tuition increases for students on the PACT program.

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In May 2009, Troy University was the first of Alabama’s colleges to freeze tuition increases for PACT students at the request of the Board of Trustees.

But, after the state put the requirements on the schools, the board voted in July of this year to nullify that agreement.

Now, the school will work in conjunction with the other nine universities included in the PACT legislation to try to get the cap removed.

“We’ll introduce legislation to make it equal for everybody,” Paramore said.

It won’t be until after the next legislative session begins, likely in February or March, the university will be able to work to remove the 2.5 percent cap on tuition increases.

And in the meantime, Troy University expects to lose about $1.5 million a year on the PACT legislation.

That comes from an estimated more than 600 students the university has enrolled on the PACT program, according to Jim Bookout, senior vice chancellor of financial affairs.

Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, who voted against the PACT legislation in the last session, plans to sponsor a bill to remove the cap for Troy University.

“I am having the bill drawn because I don’t think it’s right for us to treat institutions differently,” Boothe said. “I think all institutions should be treated the same especially when it comes to state institutions because it affects everybody.”

Boothe said he has discussed the proposed bill with some legislators, but he said it will be hard to determine if it will meet support until it is in its final form.

“There will be some objection to it, but we are not going to let it die. We are going to keep fighting until it is in its final form,” Boothe said.

Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, was not present in the last session when the PACT legislation was passed.

If he remains in office after November, he said he would work with the university in passing a bill of this nature.

“I will support Troy University in its efforts to achieve fairness,” Mitchell said.

“At this point I have not discussed this with any official at the university, but I will certainly be a good listener.”

Mitchell said he isn’t sure exactly how the PACT bill passed in the Legislature.

“I don’t recall having any debate on this issue before I got sick so I don’t really know what the upsides and downsides were, and it might have been the legislature felt like what they had on the last day was the only way to pass something to save the PACT program,” Mitchell said.

He said he believes legislators would want to modify the resolution in the upcoming session.

Bryan Taylor, Mitchell’s Republican opponent, said if elected to office, he will work to ensure Troy University is treated fairly.

“We need to make sure we are treating our institutions of higher education fairly,” Taylor said.

“My understanding from what happened last year is that some universities is that some universities are afforded a different status in the constitution, so…that resulted in some universities being treated more fairly than others, and I think that absolutely needs to be a top priority in the next session.

“Troy University is unique and very special to Alabama and offers a lot of students the ability to attend a four-year university that might not other have the opportunity to go to such a great school.”

Taylor also said a greater issue in higher education funding will be appropriately funding universities in the state budget.

“Not only do we need to make sure the legislature is treating all universities fairly, we need to ensure we’re adequately funding higher ed to help our colleges and universities keep costs down for students without these artificial caps,” he said.