OPINION: Change The W’s residency standard

This editorial is from The Commercial Dispatch newspaper in Columbus.

When it comes to the student recruitment game, Mississippi University for Women is too often forced to play with one hand behind its back — some reasons obvious, some not so.

Obviously, there is its name. Its close proximity to Mississippi State University is another knock.

Mississippi State isn’t going anywhere; that can’t be fixed. The W’s name — you may have already read that some folks are working on that.

But there is another handicap the school faces, which doesn’t get much attention. It has to do with proximity, but not to Mississippi State: The W is also less than 50 miles from the University of Alabama.

In setting its tuition rates, The University of Alabama draws a 50-mile circle around its Tuscaloosa campus. Any student inside that 50-mile radius is considered “in-state,” where tuition is concerned.

Students in Lowndes and Noxubee counties in Mississippi pay in-state tuition at the University of Alabama.

Now, draw a 50-mile circle around Mississippi University for Women, and you will see that nearly half of the circle is in Alabama.

Yet, students in Pickens, Lamar, Fayette and Tuscaloosa counties in Alabama pay out-of-state tuition at The W.

The difference is huge. Alabama residents who may live only a few miles from The W pay $11,688 a year in full-time undergraduate tuition, instead of the $4,423 that Mississippi residents pay.

In-state tuition for the University of Alabama is $7,000 a year for full-time undergraduates, and $19,200 annually for out-of-state students.

Administrators at The W grumble, and rightly so, that they’d be a far more attractive alternative for nearby Alabama students if they were able to treat those students as in-state residents — a cheaper option than the University of Alabama, and in many cases, a more convenient one.

We agree. Amid all the fuss and furor over the name change, this is an easy one for the Legislature to get behind. We urge the state College Board and the Legislature to allow The W to use the 50-mile radius rule when determining in-state residency.

Alabama is already poaching our students. Why shouldn’t we return the favor? We may even get an enrollment increase in the bargain — something The W desperately needs.

The Commercial Dispatch