Universities see another high enrollment year

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – A poor economy and rising costs have not deterred students from attending public universities in Mississippi.
The state’s eight universities reported total enrollment of 76,736 students this fall, the Institutions of Higher Learning announced Thursday. The number represented an increase of more than 3,000 students, or 4.1 percent, from fall 2009.
The rising enrollment comes despite recent efforts by the universities to make cuts, including faculty and programs, because state funding has fallen dramatically as revenue collections have slumped.
Funding for the eight schools has been cut 13.4 percent for the current year below what was appropriated the previous year. And with the loss of federal stimulus funds, additional cuts are expected the following year.
Sen. Gray Tollison, D-Oxford, said the increased enrollment is good for the schools and for the state, but “that doesn’t make up for the lost revenue. The increased enrollment does not mean we do not need to go back in and restore some of the cuts when we have an increase in state revenue.”
Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds said increased enrollment and tuition increases could offset some cuts, but not the entire amount.
The University of Mississippi, not including the Medical Center in Jackson, had a 7.1 percent increase to 17,067 students. When UMC was included, the increase was 6.6 percent to 19,536 students.
The increase at Mississippi State was 5.6 percent to 19,644 students
Mississippi lags the nation and the region in the number of college graduates. The Legislature, and various educational entities, including the state College Board and the and the Community and Junior College Board, are working on ways to not only increase enrollment, but to increase the graduation rate.
“The trend lines indicate that more individuals are seeking to enhance their lives through increased post-secondary educational attainment,” Bounds said. “We must find ways to support their efforts and increase retention and graduation rates in order to move Mississippi forward.”
Bounds attributed the increased enrollment to the schools’ aggressive recruitment efforts and to people “understanding they need to enhance their education to get a better job that pays a good living wage.”
Systemwide enrollment has increased every year since 1994. It was up 3.5 percent in the fall of 2009 over the previous year.
The increases have come despite rising costs for tuition and room and board in most of those years. Systemwide, tuition is up an average of 6.8 percent for this year and is scheduled to rise 6.9 percent next year.
In-state tuition did not increase for the 2008-09 school year, but room and board and out-of-state tuition did. Other than 2008-09, tuition and room and board have increased every year for more than a decade.
Enrollment figures have not been released yet for the 15 state community colleges but is expected to be up more than 5 percent from last year’s enrollment of more than 82,800.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.