OUR OPINION: MPACT’s status remains uncertain; scrutiny ahead

The strong hope many parents and guardians placed in the Mississippi Prepaid Affordable College Tuition plan remains shaken as the college tuition plan guaranteeing the cost of tuition at today’s prices for a future date remains in limbo.

MPACT was conceived, as were dozens of similar plans in other states, as a more affordable way for parents and others to afford tuition for their children, a cost that has risen steadily and inexorably for many years.

MPACT had bipartisan support, and it attracted tuition investors in many different income ranges. Its flexibility for payment was an attractive draw, and it was seemingly working without missing a beat until the fall of 2012, when its governing board and Mississippi Treasurer Lynn Fitch suspended enrollment because questions arose about its viability for the long term.

Fitch has announced a board meeting for Jan. 27 to further discuss MPACT’s future and what can or must be done to assure its longevity.

The outlook is bleak without an infusion of cash from the state.

The projections place insolvency in the early 2020s, less than decade away, with a shortfall of $82 million. If the plan is not reopened it will face a $142 million shortfall.

Among the 22,000 enrollees still in the program is Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, whose three children would be beneficiaries of the tuition guarantee.

Some legislators want to provide greater investment flexibility for the program, not because it would fix the problem, but to help it earn more.

All the enrollees will receive the full amount due because MPACT is backed by the full faith and credit of the state, but a more orderly process than going bellyup would be preferable.

The money invested in MPACT isn’t partisan; it’s the hard-earned money of parents, grandparents, friends and others who saw a way of reducing projected college costs with a set tuition amount based on the time of enrollment.

MPACT’s governing board, Fitch, and the Legislature should take a thorough look at the realistic options for MPACT. If there’s a reasonable and cost-effective way to make the plan work, reforms as well as new cash almost certainly would be required.

If no clear way is found to make MPACT work on a financially sound basis then doing what’s necessary to guarantee the commitments made to enrollees should be completed and the fund abolished, as has been the case in many other states.

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