OUR OPINION: Only better funding will halt tuition spiral

By NEMS Daily Journal

In an age in which the economic value of a college education has never been more demonstrable, access to higher learning is a critical issue.
People who go to college and graduate make more money and have more life opportunities than those who don’t. Communities and states that have a high proportion of college graduates in the population stand a better chance of achieving and maintaining economic growth and general prosperity.
So it’s in everyone’s interest that a four-year college education be affordable. Not that it’s for everybody; it’s not. But cost should never be the deciding factor for a qualified and motivated student.
In Mississippi, that’s particularly true. As the nation’s poorest state, our cycle of poverty can only be broken by a better educated population.
All of these factors are why accelerating college costs are troubling. As costs continue to go up, access can be endangered for some. And if last week’s action by the state College Board stands, a Mississippi public university education is about to get more expensive – again.
Tuition went up an average of 6.9 percent last fall, the second year in a two-year rise. It could rise as much as 14 percent over the next two years. That could drive average tuition up to over $6,000 by the fall of 2013.
Mississippi university education will still be a bargain by national standards, and certainly in comparison with private colleges and universities, even in Mississippi. But that’s not saying much because college costs have been increasing well beyond the rate of inflation for many years.
Here’s the basic statistic that explains the necessity for a tuition increase in Mississippi, and the story isn’t that much different for public universities in other states. In 2000, according to state Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds, state funding made up 56 percent of university revenues and tuition 32 percent. Today it’s the other way around, with tuition accounting for 57 percent of revenues.
Just in the last four years, Bounds said, the Legislature has cut Mississippi university budgets by 14 percent to 15 percent.
Legislators like to talk about holding the line against tax increases, but tuition increases to offset state funding cuts constitute de facto tax hikes – at least on the parents and students who are paying for a university education.
Mississippi can’t go on cutting university funding and increasing tuition at the rate it has been for much longer and expect 1) some students of moderate means not to be locked out, and 2) the state’s overall economic outlook to diminish over time.