Mississippi public universities win final approval to raise tuition by 3.2 percent on average

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JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi's College Board gave final approval Thursday to plans for the state's eight public universities to raise tuition by an average of 3.2 percent this fall.

Under the plan, Delta State University and Mississippi Valley State University would keep tuition flat for the third year. The other six universities would increase charges from 2.5 percent to 5 percent.

Mississippi residents would pay a statewide average of $6,718 for two semesters of full-time tuition and fees, up by $272.

The largest increases would come at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State, which would both raise tuition and fees 5 percent to nearly $7,500 a year.

The board voted on a two-year tuition plan last year. However, the Mississippi University of Women changed plans and asked for an increase of 2.5 percent after originally planning to keep prices flat next fall. Preliminary approval for the plan was granted in November.

Universities say they need more money to increase faculty salaries, cover operation costs and make up for cuts to state aid. Though appropriations to the university system rose by almost $40 million this year, it still remains more than $55 million short of state appropriations in the 2008 budget year. On a per-student basis, aid shrank even more during the recession. Lawmakers have recommended lower funding for universities next year, although universities assumed they would get more money, said Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds.

"None of us like the idea of increasing tuition," he said.

Many students don't pay the sticker price, thanks to federal, state and college-based aid. In 2010-2011, Mississippi university students typically got $6,400 worth of aid, Southern Regional Education Board figures show. That covered about one-third of the total cost of attendance, which includes not only tuition, but room, board, books and transportation.

Still, increasing college costs are far outstripping stagnant family incomes. In-state tuition will rise 66 percent from fall 2005 to fall 2015, while household incomes have been basically flat in Mississippi. It now takes about 17 percent of the typical Mississippi family's income to pay for just tuition at a state university.

"We are taxing the hard-working people who are trying to send these children to school," said board member Bob Owens of Jackson. Owens said he was concerned about spreading out thin state support to subsidize out-of-state students who now can attend Alcorn State University, Mississippi Valley State and Delta State at the same price as in-state students.

And more students are borrowing to pay for school. More than half of students at the state's eight public universities had federally financed student debt in 2011, with the average student borrowing almost $6,700. The numbers are higher at some schools. Federal figures show 90 percent of Mississippi Valley State undergraduates had loans in 2011.


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