By NEMS Daily Journal
It’s no secret that the cost of a university education has been accelerating dramatically in recent years. Mississippi students and parents have certainly been feeling it.
Now the latest national statistics bear out the reality in stark terms. The U.S. Department of Education reported last week that in the latest fully documented two-year period – 2008 to 2010 – the average tuition at public four-year institutions increased 15 percent.
That overall rate was minuscule compared with increases as high as 40 percent in Georgia, Arizona and California. At least Mississippi hasn’t hit those levels.
But our state is on a similar or even slightly more accelerated pace than the national average. Last year, tuition went up 6.9 percent. Next fall it will increase an average of 8.5 percent. Another significant hike is anticipated for 2013.
Meanwhile, the Legislature has cut state funding for Mississippi universities 15 percent since 2008.
In 2000, tuition made up 56 percent of university revenues in Mississippi and tuition 32 percent. Today that figure is precisely reversed.
At the University of Mississippi, the pendulum has swung even further. Only 15 percent of the Ole Miss general budget comes from state funding and 60 percent from tuition.
These figures are out of kilter. They threaten to price out middle-class students.
Low-income students have federal Pell grants and high-income families can afford the tuition increases. It’s the middle class that gets squeezed.
The state’s retreat from funding for higher education is the primary culprit. Universities have rightly been asked to be more efficient, and they’ve tightened budgets in many ways. But there comes a point when efficiencies affect the quality of educational offerings to students, not to mention their breadth and variety, and Mississippi is already well behind its neighboring states in how much it pays its best faculty.
It’s all well and good for legislators to proclaim that they haven’t raised taxes, but tell that to students who are paying much higher tuition than they would have just a few short years ago.
Mississippi still has some efficiencies to be achieved, no doubt. But it’s clear the political will doesn’t exist for dramatic realignment or consolidation among the state’s eight universities, and a mediocre system isn’t an option in an age where a college education means so much to a person’s earning power and a state’s ability to generate economic development.
Ever-accelerating tuition well beyond the rate of inflation is unsustainable for Mississippi families and for the state. At some point, the state has to get serious about stemming the tide.