College Board approves tuition hike at public universities

AROUND MISSISSIPPI — Tuition will rise about 8.5 percent, on average, next year at Mississippi’s eight public universities.

The increase was approved yesterday by the College Board, finalizing an amount that was discussed last month.

In-state students taking two semesters of full-time classes will pay an average of $5,906 for the 2012-13 school year. That amount will be $459 higher, on average, than this year.

Some students pay less than full price because of scholarships or financial aid.

Officials said increases are necessary because state appropriations continue to shrink. The system’s overall budget will go up slightly next year, but those increases are earmarked for financial aid, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and some other special items. Universities will see their general appropriations shrink by 1 percent, according to an allotment approved Monday by college board members.

“We are a fairly efficient organization,” said Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds. “We’ve made a lot of cuts. At some point, you can’t do more with less. At some point, less is less.”

Bounds said Mississippi needs to pay its faculty members more and doesn’t want to hurt the quality of students’ education.

Students at the Mississippi University for Women will pay the least, $5,316. Students will pay the most, $6,336, at the University of Southern Mississippi. Nonresident students pay more, as do students studying for professional degrees such as law or veterinary medicine.

Average full-time tuition at Mississippi’s public institutions has risen 65 percent in the last 10 years. Inflation rose 28 percent during that time. Family income in Mississippi rose 23 percent from 2002 to 2010, though no later figures have been published yet.

Bounds said the increases stem in part from a long-term trend of decreasing state funding. For the first time this spring, Mississippi schools were asked to project increases for two years. The universities project they will need to raise tuition between 5 percent and 6.9 percent next spring for the 2013-2014 school year.

Mississippi is far from alone in seeing sharp increases in public university tuition, and the cost of going to school in the Magnolia State remains less than in most places. Median annual tuition this year at a Mississippi public university is the second lowest among the 15 states tracked by the Southern Regional Education Board, above only Oklahoma. Mississippi universities typically charge about 70 percent of what public universities charge nationwide.

Students are having to dig deeper in Mississippi. More than half of public university graduates said they had student loan debt in 2008-2008, the most recent figures available. Of those students who took out loans, the average debt at graduation was $21,304, a sharp percent increase since 2003-2004.

One piece of good news for students. The Mississippi Tuition Assistance Grant, which goes to more than 20,000 students statewide, will be fully funded next year, after threats that the amount might have to be trimmed. The grant goes to entering students who scored 15 or higher on the ACT college exam, or continuing students who have a college grade point average of 2.5 or higher. Freshmen and sophomores get $500 a year, while junior and seniors get $1,000.

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