Ole Miss chancellor worries about middle-class squeeze

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones believes rising tuition costs caused by reduced state funding will create barriers to education for middle-class families.
During a meeting with the Daily Journal editorial board on Wednesday, Jones called on state leaders to do all they can to support higher education funding.
He said the need for state funding is greater in a poorer state like Mississippi because it allows universities to keep tuition costs down. The state College Board last week gave tentative approval to a tuition increase of nearly 7 percent over the next two years.
State funding to universities has been cut about 15 percent in the last four years.
“The poorer the state, the more difficult or challenging it is,” said Jones, who was in town as part of the university’s 16-city tour to introduce new athletic director Ross Bjork and football coach Hugh Freeze. “It becomes more difficult for students to seek higher education.”
Mississippi now spends less money per student on higher education than it did 10 years ago, Jones said. As a result, tuition costs have steadily increased, said Jones, who also noted the university’s tuition is still only about 80 to 85 percent of the market rate for its peer Southern universities.
His concern, however, is rising costs will squeeze middle-class families. Higher-income individuals can afford the tuition, and lower income families are aided by federal Pell Grants and the Ole Miss Opportunity Scholarship, which helps students whose family income is $30,000 or less.
“I’m very concerned about the middle class and the ability of the middle class to effectively have access to higher education,” he said.
Currently, less than 15 percent of Ole Miss’ funding in its general budget comes from state sources, Jones said, adding about 60 percent comes from tuition.
State leaders can help, he said, by being generous to universities in their upcoming appropriation and bond bills. The bond bill is an important source for universities to make capitol improvements, he said.
Jones also addressed the university’s recent lack of athletic success and the resulting unrest.
He said if athletics are a university’s front porch, “We’d all agree the front porch for the University of Mississippi is a really big front porch and an important front porch. When that front porch isn’t right, people don’t feel good about things.”
At the same time, Jones said, the university has accomplished much during recent years, including Forbes magazine ranking it higher than any public university in its five-state contiguous area, its accountancy program being ranked in the top 10 of the nation and its freshman class growing by 50 percent in two years to about 3,600 students this year.
Also, Jones said, the overall response to the university’s hiring of Bjork and Freeze has been “remarkably positive.”
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com