Yikes! Hikes!

by Lynne W. Jeter

Published: July 5,2004

For the most part, the state’s business leaders understand the necessity of last month’s College Board vote to increase tuition, room and boarding costs at Mississippi’s universities. The move, prompted by budget cuts, should generate nearly $13 million, some of which will finance faculty and staff pay raises.

“We’re still very competitive compared to other states,” said Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council. “This is a national trend, not just something unique to Mississippi. I have two children in college, so I’m dealing with two tuitions. True, higher college costs puts a greater strain on those in need of various scholarship and financial aid resources, but that’s just something we’ve got to pay attention to.”

On June 7, the state College Board voted 10-2 to raise tuition between 5% and 12.3%, and room and board between 3% and 25%. Board president Roy Klumb and committee chairman Thomas Colbert voted against the increases.

“The budget cuts and subsequent tuition hikes for the universities are realities of our economy, and it is unfortunate that as a result, services may be reduced,” said Pamela Smith, president of the Mississippi Council on Economic Education. “Fortunately, now that the Mississippi Council on Economic Education is established, the programming for teachers and students will be readily available in the upcoming school year. With the support of businesses, foundations and individuals, the council will expand its efforts in the upcoming school year to provide curriculum tools for teachers and programming for kids through our Mississippi Stock Market Simulation and our Economics Challenge.”

The council works closely with Mississippi State University (MSU) and plans to work with the University of Southern Mississippi (Southern Miss) in providing teachers with curricula so that schoolchildren in grades 1-12 will be equipped with the tools they need to succeed in the real world, said Smith.

Mississippi Valley State University will see the highest tuition hike, at 12.3%, from $3,411 to $3,832 for fiscal year 2005. Tuition fees for MSU and Southern Miss will rise 6%, from $3,873 to $4,105. At the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), tuition will increase 5%, from $3,916 to $4,110, just $5 a year more than MSU and Southern Miss.

“Tuition increases are unfortunate but necessary,” said Bob Pierce, director of the Southern Miss Alumni Association. “Our tuition increase mirrored Mississippi State’s, and Ole Miss had a slightly lower percentage increase. That shows that Southern Miss is attempting to maximize its dollars. We’re not asking for dollars for frivolous things. We are trying to generate revenue to improve the core components of this institution. (Southern Miss president) Dr. (Shelby) Thames and Gregg Lassen, our CFO, were very specific about USM’s needs. Some of that money will go to merit-based salary increases for faculty and staff. They’ve only gotten about 2% over the last five years or so. It’s very much needed, and I think they tried to be very realistic so tuition didn’t go up more than it needed to.”

At MSU, room and board will jump 10%, from $2,435 for double occupancy to $2,679. At Ole Miss, the cost of the same room arrangement will increase 8.1%, from $3,044 to $3,292. Southern Miss will see the lowest percentage increase among the state’s eight colleges. At 4.8%, double occupancy room fees will rise from $2,507 to $2,627.

“The state Legislature has done what it could to fund education, but it’s just not enough to maintain the quality of education that we want to provide to the citizens of this state,” said Pierce. “Not to belittle it, but the fact of the matter is that services and products cost more. You’re paying more for a tank of gas than three years ago. If we want to maintain quality education, retain quality professors and have quality technology, it all costs money. Unfortunately, given the state of financial affairs in Mississippi, that has to be passed along to the students.”

William G. Yates Jr., chair of the University of Mississippi Foundation and president of The Yates Companies Inc., said, “One of the most important things to the state of Mississippi is quality education, and income derived from tuition and other sources help attract and retain the very best faculty and staff at our universities and colleges. Our students deserve a superior educational experience so they can be successful in life.”

Steve Browning, president of Mississippians for Economic Progress, said, “An education at Mississippi State is a great opportunity in the realm of incredible instruction and research capabilities. (Mississippi State president) Dr. (Charles) Lee has faced great odds during his short tenure to maintain this stature of excellence. I hope that the university’s leadership can build on this record of achievement in the future.”

Mississippi’s athletic directors are pushing for non-resident waivers for out-of-state athletic signees, a move that would save athletic departments hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, since 2000, Southern Miss’ athletic department has paid the school an additional $700,000 for out-of-state fees.

“Athletics in the state of Mississippi bring a lot of attention to the universities. Look at what Delta State University was able to do this year (after winning a national football championship),” Pierce said. “If non-resident waivers for out-of-state athletes allow the universities to be more competitive without making a negative financial impact, then it’s something that should be considered.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

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