In Northeast Mississippi, the three universities most identified with our region all reported healthy increases for fall 2010, and all four community colleges serving the region's counties had increases over fall 2009.
Statewide preliminary headcounts show the eight universities enrolled 76,736 students, compared to 73,712 in 2009.
Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi both set enrollment records. Mississippi State remains the largest school, with 19,644 (plus 5.6 percent) students in Starkville and Meridian, and Ole Miss has 19,536 (plus 6.5 percent) in Oxford, Tupelo, Southaven and Jackson.
Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, arguably defying predictions, increased 4.7 percent to 2,592 students.
The region's community colleges also exceeded 2009 headcounts:
- East Mississippi enrolled 5,810, a 10.5 percent increase
- Itawamba enrolled 8,691, a 5.6 percent increase.
- Northeast enrolled 3,741, a 0.9 percent increase.
- Northwest enrolled 8,756, a 4.6 percent increase.
Jim Hood, an auditor for the Mississippi State Board for Community and Junior Colleges, said Thursday a preliminary, early headcount shows about a 5.5 percent statewide increase.
All the universities and community colleges welcome the bursting-at-the-seams headcounts because it means more tuition income, but all are concerned about declining state appropriations.
Cutbacks already imposed have forced community colleges and universities into unprecedented belt-tightening that includes decreasing class offerings, eliminating some courses, reducing faculty size, and increasing average class sizes.
State appropriations for the universities in 2011 stand at $708,337,000, a 13.4 percent reduction from the original appropriation in 2010. Budget cuts diminished state funding in the 2010 cycle.
Community colleges statewide have a $223,545,729 appropriation this year, a $17.8 million, 7.4 percent drop from 2010. Universities and community colleges know in 2012 they will take a hit with the loss of all federal stimulus funding, which closed many gaps in 2009 and this year.
Reality requires legislative and gubernatorial reassessment of the state's commitment to its community colleges and universities. Even drastic efficiencies have limits, and at some point the quality of education suffers.