State Auditor Jim Zeigler on Monday lauded a move by a state higher education board to raise tuition payments to families who have purchased PACT – or Pre-paid Affordable College Tuition – plans that allow parents to lock in an affordable four-year college program in exchange for paying ahead.
The program had fallen on hard times, going insolvent in 2009 and freezing the rates of its tuition payments.
Zeigler, an advocate of using a “modest portion” of money from a BP settlement stemming from the 2011 Gulf oil spill to fully restore the “PACT” tuition payments, says Monday’s decision “opens the door for other increases,” including, possibly, full tuition at 2015 levels.
“Some leaders in Montgomery had been saying that a previous settlement of PACT litigation means that no increase can legally be made. That is obviously not true given the 3% increase,” Zeigler said.
Zeigler said that while he is glad the state board has seen fit to use the somewhat improved budgetary position of Alabama to remediate what the auditor has called a “wrong,” he will continue to lead a push for legislation or executive action that ties future payments to the contemporary rate of tuition that Alabama colleges and universities are actually charging.
“The 3% increase is a tiny step in the right direction,” Zeigler said. “It does clear up some misconceptions that could aid our fight for full payment as promised.”
Zeigler, a retired attorney, has a personal as well as a public policy stake in the issue: he purchased two PACT plans – 16 and 11 years ago, respectively – and hopes to see them eventually pay the full cost of college for his two daughters.
A Montgomery ethics panel recently ruled that that arrangement does not violate state ethics laws, because his stake is one he has in common with so many other citizens and because that stake is equal to other participants in the program.
“This is a wrong that needs to be righted,” Zeigler told ALToday.com last month. “The BP money may be the last chance to provide the full tuition that these families paid for and based their planning on.”