By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The state College Board, grappling with deep budget cuts, on Monday approved a systemwide tuition increase averaging 6.8 percent for the fall 2010 semester and 6.9 percent the following year.
The increases will mean an average per-student tuition hike of $677 over the next two academic years.
During a teleconference meeting Monday, the board also heard more about plans by the eight public universities to lay off employees and eliminate programs.
Because of the budget problems, the eight universities propose the elimination of 389 filled positions by fiscal year 2013 and 653 currently vacant positions. They also plan to drop 28 programs, 49 degrees and 33 departments.
The specifics of exactly who will be laid off and which programs will be eliminated are still being worked out by the university presidents. Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds said he expects the College Board to act on those changes within the next couple of months.
“You are talking about the livelihood of individuals out there,” he said. “It is a pretty difficult issue to deal with.”
The only action taken in Monday’s teleconference, which was a continuation of a meeting started last week, was to increase tuition.
“As a person who struggled to pay for college, it is pretty painful to have to recommend tuition increases,” Bounds added. “But I feel every campus has done its due diligence and has found areas that can be cut. We have prepared for the worse and now we will pray for the best.”
Because state revenue is not meeting projections, the universities are being cut nearly $54 million, or 8.2 percent, by Gov. Haley Barbour for the current fiscal year Another reduction of 10 percent or more is projected during the upcoming two years.
The College Board is planning for a total cut of $182.5 million through the next two fiscal years. The tuition increases will offset 36 percent of those reductions; cuts at the universities make up the rest.
The tuition increases vary from school to school. The largest is a 9 percent increase for each of the upcoming two years at Jackson State and Delta State. The smallest is 4.5 percent for each of the upcoming two years at Mississippi Valley State.
For the current budget year, the systemwide average tuition is $4,742. Under the change approved Monday, tuition will rise an average of $326 for the 2010-11 school year and $351 for the following year. The College Board approved the increase without a dissenting vote.
Asked about the tuition increase, Barbour said, “It’s understandable.” He said universities and community colleges are experiencing record enrollment, meaning costs are not deterring people from going to school even though he, like everyone else, wishes the increase could be avoided.
The College Board also increased the tuition for out-of-state students by an average of 6.1 percent for each of the upcoming two years.
That means the average out-of-state tuition, which currently is $12,174 per year, will increase $766 next year and $825 the following year.
“It is our hope that what was approved today is a worst-case scenario. If we do not see cuts this deep, we can reduce the increases,” Bounds said. “The board and our universities remain committed to ensuring higher education is affordable in Mississippi and that our degree programs are of the highest quality.”
According to College Board statistics, tuition at Mississippi public universities will remain between 75 percent and 88 percent of that at peer institutions in the Southeast if those schools raise tuition at least 5 percent as expected.
In coming meetings, the board also will grant increases in room and board fees. Under state law, those programs must be self-sustaining.
Except for last year, tuition has increased every year since 1999-2000, according to information compiled by the state auditor’s office. The largest increase was 15 percent in 2001-02, and the smallest was .57 percent in 2003-04.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.