April 21, 2017 11:36:08 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
Heather Evans drove up from her home in Kemper County to Columbus Thursday to spend the day with her daughter, Hannah, a freshman at Mississippi University for Women.
What she might have heard back at home, she heard first on campus: Thursday, the Institutions of Higher Learning announced tuition increases at all eight of the state's public universities, including a 9.1 percent increase at The W, the highest percentage increase among the eight schools.
"I hate to hear that, but I'm not surprised," she said. "We have talked about this as a family."
Heather's husband, Michael, a Democrat, represents District 45 in the Mississippi House of Representatives.
"He's one of the few in the Legislature who was opposed to the cuts," Heather Evans said. "It's not just college and universities, either. It's at all levels."
According to The Associated Press, the statewide average for two semesters of full-time tuition and fees will rise by an average of $463 to $7,491.
Before Thursday's changes, rates had been scheduled to go up 3.8 percent, on average. Now, the lowest increases will be 5 percent at Jackson State University and Mississippi Valley State University.
With the increases, two semesters of tuition for full-time students (at least 12 semester hours) at MUW will cost about $6,614 and $8,318 at MSU (a 6.9 percent increase)
Universities have seen multiple budgets cuts since they were promised $773 million in appropriations in 2016. They will start the 2018 budget year with $667 million, about 12 percent less than what they actually spent in 2016, according to the AP.
Inevitably, much of that cost is passed on to students.
"I'm fortunate," Hannah Evans said. "My parents are paying for me so I don't have any student loans."
Heather Evans said that she and her husband would probably cover the additional costs next fall-- without relying on a student loan.
"We'll probably just have to cut back on some things," she said. "But that won't work for everyone."
"For a lot of people it's going to be difficult," Hannah added. "I just don't think it's a good idea. College students already go into debt for an education."
Kayla Benton, a junior from Reform, Alabama, said the tuition hike is a heavy blow.
"Are you serious?" she asked when she learned of Thursday's IHL board vote. "This is going to affect me a lot. I've already gotten more student loans than I probably should. Now it looks like I'll have to get even more. It doesn't seem right to me. I don't know what I'm going to do."
MUW President Jim Borsig said the tuition increase was a difficult, but necessary, move.
"Making the decision to ask for a tuition increase is among the hardest decisions I end up making," Borsig said. "But what draws students to our university is the high quality of the academic programs we provide. That pays dividends for our students for the rest of their lives.
"The next part is maintaining affordability and accessibility for our students, which is also a part of our mission," he added.
Borsig said cuts in state appropriations factor into those decisions.
"Appropriations is not a cause-and-effect, but it is a factor," he said. "The tuition increases do not nearly cover the loss of the appropriations. We've eliminated some vacant positions (and) reorganized our administration, going from four colleges to three, which has saved us about $200,000. We've also delayed purchases for equipment."
At Mississippi State, Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter said while the university is sensitive to the impact of the tuition increase, the bottom line is quality.
"Higher education is an investment for students and their families, and they should see a lifetime return on that investment," Salter said. "At MSU, we feel we are meeting that test ... even with the tuition increase.
"Despite the challenges impacting our resources, we remain competitive where it counts: in the classrooms and in the research labs where our students are achieving at an unprecedented level," he added.
As it is at The W, Salter said MSU is not content to pass the additional costs created by the cut in state funding entirely to the students, noting the university is constantly look for ways to operate on a leaner, more stream-lined budget.
"Everything is on the table, at this point, as we react to the current budget realities," he said.
The tuition increase also comes after the Legislature passed a bill that would prevent students for receiving more than one state grant per semester. While that is expected to save the state $1 million to $2 million annually, some students who had previously received multiple state grants could lose anywhere from $500 to $1,000 in grant funds per semester.
Maggie Smith, a MUW junior from Hatley, seemed to take the increase in stride.
"I'm here mostly on scholarships, but I may have to start paying more if the tuition goes up," she said. "The W is still one of the least expensive ones around, so it's not too bad for me, personally. I can't say I'm happy about the tuition going up, but I don't think it will affect me all that much."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]