By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Itawamba Community College will not increase its tuition or fees for the 2010 fall semester.
Cuts in state funding have caused many community colleges and four-year universities to respond with tuition increases. But ICC President David Cole announced Thursday that the school would instead make sacrifices such as increasing class size, delaying maintenance work and using more adjunct instructors.
ICC’s current tuition is $800 per semester, plus a $30 registration fee.
The announcement comes one week after Northeast Mississippi Community College announced it would increase its tuition by 11 percent to $1,050 per semester.
Cole credited the financial support the school receives from its five-county territory as a key factor in holding the line on tuition and fee increases. Lee, Pontotoc, Itawamba, Monroe and Chickasaw counties all provide the school with the maximum collection amounts for property taxes.
“In looking at the increase in unemployment rate for the region, we realize that the families we serve are having troubled times,” Cole said. “The college can make sacrifices and delay certain expenditures and continue to meet the needs of our region.”
The $800 per semester tuition and $30 registration fee have not changed since 2006. Dormitory costs, parking decals, meal costs and other fees will also not change next year.
“It is another way of ICC putting students first,” said Kelsie Young, a freshman from Pontotoc.
All five counties in ICC’s territory have tuition guarantees. County governments have combined with community foundations to pay two years of tuition for graduating high school seniors beyond the amount covered by scholarships and grants.
The guarantees do not apply to nontraditional students. They also don’t apply to students on scholarships. Those scholarships often cover costs like books, meals or gas to and from school. But if tuition were raised, less money would be available for those costs.
“As a student, money is already a factor,” said freshman engineering major Devin Rose of Saltillo. “A couple of hundred dollars is the price of a book, or gas money.”
The stable cost of tuition will be particularly helpful for nontraditional students, especially those who are unemployed, are on a fixed budget or have childcare costs.
“I have no financial aid of any kind; it all comes out of pocket,” said Deborah McGhie, who just completed her prerequisites to study radiology after having been out of school for more than 20 years.
“I think it says a lot about ICC and how much they are dedicated to the students.”
All 15 of the state’s community colleges, including ICC, have seen record enrollment numbers this year. The school has 7,880 students, up from 6,926 last year.
But state funding hasn’t kept pace with the increase, and state support per student is $364, or 8 percent, less than it was 10 years ago, not including the cost of inflation. By contrast, universities are up 8.5 percent per student during the same period and K-12 has increased 49.1 percent.
Cole called on legislators and Gov. Haley Barbour to recognize this disparity and begin to correct it by shoring up community college funding.
One way ICC will be able to keep tuition stable will be by not hiring additional staff to meet rising enrollment. Instead it will allow class size to rise and will use more adjunct teachers.
Students say that those sacrifices are worth the benefit of not paying higher tuition.
“I think it is one of the things that has to happen,” said Mack-Arthur Turner Jr., the Student Government president on the Tupelo campus. “The value of community colleges is small class size, but I trust they will be able to balance keeping tuition the same but also maintaining strong teacher-student relationships.”
Turner said that even a small tuition increase would have been difficult for students.
“Most of my friends are broke,” Turner said. “We eat on the dollar menu not because we want to but because of the way the economy is. Even $100 or $200 could mean a dinner or an insurance payment.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or firstname.lastname@example.org.