Board puts universities’ fee request on hold

OXFORD and STARKVILLE — The College Board stalled discussion of a $50-a-semester building fee on full-time students at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University, with members saying they want a committee to consider it. However, it appears the proposal will return, possibly as early as next month.

The proposed fee was up for a first reading by the 12-member board today at its meeting in Oxford but was pulled from the agenda yesterday. Under board rules, tuition and fee increases normally must be considered again at a second meeting before passing.

“The Finance Committee wanted to review it,” said College Board spokeswoman Caron Blanton. “They’ll review it and it will be on the agenda at a future time.”

Part-time students would be assessed lower fees under the proposal, officials said.

The state’s two largest universities said they need the money to pay for building projects. Ole Miss estimated its fee on students on the Oxford campus would generate $1.83 million annually, while MSU estimated it would collect $1.7 million.

Ole Miss said it would use its money to pay for the $50 million renovation and expansion of its 1977 student union. When the plan was approved, Ole Miss said $28.9 million of the total cost would come from future student-fee increases. Ole Miss said it would use the fee money in the future to pay for other student facilities.

MSU said it would use the money to pay for a $37.5 million building with 90,000 square feet of classrooms and a 60,000 square-foot parking garage. Like Ole Miss, MSU said $25.5 million in future student fees would pay for part of the building slated for the center of campus. After that, MSU says it wants to use the fees to renovate the YMCA Building, which includes the campus post office, and for utility upgrades.

Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds said the growing enrollment at the two schools has created a need for construction.

For the current school year, MSU raised in-state tuition by 6 percent, or $348, to $6,153. In the spring, MSU projected another 6 percent increase for the 2013-2014 school year, which would bring in-state tuition to $6,522. Another $100 would equal a 7.6 percent increase. This year, Ole Miss raised in-state tuition by 6.8 percent, or $393, to $6,185. In the spring, Ole Miss projected a 5.7 percent increase for the 2013-2014 school year, which would raise in-state tuition to $6,540. Another $100 would equal a 7.4 percent increase.

The fee proposal comes after the Legislature failed this year to approve new borrowing for construction projects

“We just don’t have any options on university campuses,” Bounds said. “We don’t have the opportunity to do a bond issue.”

He said he wouldn’t rule out the other six universities adding facility fees.

In August, Mississippi State requested 10 projects worth $58.2 million from the 2013 Legislature. While a $9.7 million renovation of the YMCA building was on the list, the new classroom building was not. Similarly, Ole Miss’ 10 projects, worth $95.5 million, didn’t include the student union project.

Though college costs remain lower in Mississippi than in many other states, they have been rising rapidly. Figures from the Southern Regional Education Board show that in 2009-2010, before some of the steepest tuition increases, college costs already consumed a larger share of family income in Mississippi than nationwide.

“I worry about it being sustainable,” Bounds said.

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