As 2018 draws to a close, tuition rates will continue to rise in the new year at the University of Mississippi, which has seen a 65 percent increase in tuition over the last decade.
Dr. Alfred Rankins Jr., commissioner of higher education for Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, believes tuition spikes are a pressing issue.
“Tuition rates are of great concern to the Board of Trustees and myself,” Rankins Jr. said. “The decision to raise tuition is the hardest decision that a university leader makes.”
The decrease in state funding of public higher education in Mississippi has been a main contributor to the rise in tuition rates at state universities. According to Rankins Jr., this leaves universities with two options for funding when state appropriations dwindle: cutting costs and raising tuition.
Over the past three years, state appropriations for the system have been reduced by $110 million or 14.08 percent. Specifically for Ole Miss, state appropriations have been reduced by $14 million or 13.8 percent since 2016.
The growth of the state has morphed public higher education into a completely different business model than what it was in previous decades according to Larry Sparks, who serves as the vice chancellor for finance at Ole Miss as well as interim chancellor.
“In terms of the explosion of the percentage of population that has been able to participate,” Sparks said, “the ability of states to keep up with that growth far exceeded the pace of economic growth, and the cost of education became more and more reliant on those who participate.”
Namely, the burden is on the students to invest in their future through paying a steadily increasing amount of money for higher education. But this is the climate of the system now, according to Commissioner Rankins Jr.
“Higher education is an investment, both for the individual student and the state, that provides a tremendous return,” Rankins Jr. said. “Mississippians with a college degree earn more, pay more in taxes, and are less likely to be unemployed or need assistance from the state.”
As for what can be done about the issue, the factors at play – growth, inflation, state funding cuts, etc. – seem to be mostly out of the control of universities.
As for the concern over the lack of state funding, Sparks said he thinks the state of Mississippi is doing a good job in terms of the percentage of funding that goes to education as a whole.
“But could they do more? That’s a hard question to answer,” Sparks said. “I’m focused on how we fund the needs that we have here with the resources available.”
Tuition increase is an issue facing the nation, however, and not just the magnolia state. In fact, Mississippi ranks 12th among the lowest tuition costs in the country. The main concern is that tuition rates have increased by approximately 65 percent in Mississippi over the last decade, while average household income has actually decreased in that time period.
For students, some have felt the effect of having to work in a higher cost for education each year.
“I’ve had to pick up a job to pay for school on top of paying living expenses in Oxford,” said Pierce Morrison, a senior from Nashville. “Since a lot of us are from out-of-state, I feel like rising tuition rates might affect future enrollment.”
Even students who are eligible for federal and state grants along with university scholarships face difficulties in keeping their aid packages each year.
“It’s been a stressful process,” said Sofia Cooper, a sophomore from Gulfport. “It’s easy to feel like you’re just a number upon entering the [financial aid] office.
“I think the aid will cover my tuition costs,” Cooper said, “but it’s not certain for other students who don’t qualify for the aid I receive.”